Venezuelan migrants in Colombia: "Migration is a story about integration, not a migrant´s tale"


By Andrés Segura


Colombia has been a country of origin for migrants in its recent history, but in the last 5 years, it has received more than 1.7 million Venezuelan citizens. Additionally, approximately 600,000 Colombians who lived in Venezuela have returned. Against this background, immigration has become a new historic challenge for the country.


Colombia decided to welcome and integrate Venezuelan migrants under the premise that it is best to include migrants in its public policies instead of creating new policies specifically for them. The most complex challenge in doing so is to strengthen the capacities of the State and the society to include this new population, which implies the implementation of deep-rooted institutional adjustments in its day to day operations.


The greatest barrier for integration in Colombia concerns public opinion on migration and a risk that a significant part of the population might reject migration to the country. After analyzing international experiences and academic studies as well as working directly with communities, we have identified three guiding communication strategies to help strengthen public support for newly arrived migrants:


  1. Information and communication campaigns about a migratory phenomenon should give host communities a leading role in their narratives and contents.
  2. Governments should prioritized communication inititives that promote coordinated work and knowledge-sharing among tgovernment institutions, international cooperation, and/or civil society organisations.
  3. In public debate, statements by political, economic, or opinion leaders that promote a discriminatory approach must be systematically answered, avoiding confrontation.


The following article seeks to focus on the first point.


What Buzz Lightyear and Woody can teach us about integration


When it comes to communication about migration, it is almost instinctive to focus the conversation on migrants themselves. Colombia has not beent immune to this trend. In the past, narratives around the phenomenon of migration have mainly focused on the vulnerability of the millions of people who have crossed the border, in order to encourage a response of solidarity from Colombian society.


However, the rejection of migrants from the Clombian society has remained stable over the last two years. The relationship between poverty, security and the supposed passive attitude of migrants has created a series of stereotypes and prejudices that represent a difficult barrier to overcome in terms of integration.


Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced these stereotypes, as the economic consequences of the confinement measures put in place further increased the feeling of saturation when speaking of "the Venezuelans" and a fatigue towards the intention to help. Based on this information and a study that developed between the Colombian Government, the World Bank and the Colombian firm Buho, we identified the need to evolve the message and move from solidarity to integration.


This is where Toy Story serves as a reference for communication strategies. In this famous animated movie, the protagonists are two, Buzz and Woody, not only Buzz “the migrant”. This represents a fundamental change in the way the migration story is told. Following the example of Toy Story, Colombian host communities are beginning to be recognized as protagonists of the social process of integration that is being experienced. It is not just about talking to host communities on their terms, it is making them part of the process and the story that is being told.


The objective of Clombia's communication strategy is to break down the barriers of prejudice and stereotypes that have been built, by constructing institutional information and campaigns in a way that different actors feel identified. Host communities also have doubts and uncertainties that need to be acknowledged. In order to construct inclusive narratives, our communication strategy follows three main principles:

  1. Give visibility to successful integration cases
  2. Always target both migrants and host communities when distributing institutional information 
  3. Remind of instances in which Colombians have also been discriminated against in other settings to encourage empathy.


Success depends on the ability to create coordinate between all the actors to follow the same approach. If national governments, local authorities, international organizations, the private sector, academia and civil society build messages and content in a coordinated way, it is much easier to influence citizens’ views on integration processes. This ranges from how the measures that have been taken are reported, to the construction of anti-xenophobia campaigns.


The described strategy certainly poses challenges when it comes to its implementation as it implies fighting against the common portrayal of migration focusing on the migrant, and against the institutional protocols of different actors that prevent them from having flexibility in their communication strategies. This is precisely the main obstacle that Colombia faces at this moment. Just to give an example: In the implementation of the recently established Temporary Protection Statute (TPS) for Venezuelans, the campaign for migrants to access the TPS is only focused on them. Any communication on the TPS targeting the host communities is not foreseen in the short term, which, in practice, will be those who must understand the migratory phenomenon -and the TPS- to be able to, for example, of job opportunities to migrants based on the Statute.


Organisations such as the OECD are highly relevant when it comes to sharing experiences that make it possible to strengthen the abilities of States to reconcile different interests and focus their efforts on similar goals. The circumstances of immigration that Colombia experiences may be different from those experienced in other regions of the world, but we all will need to walk the path of integration in one way or another. 


Andrés Segura

Consultant in public affairs, crisis, migration and strategic communication

Former communications and anti-xenophobia specialist for the office of the manager for the Border and Migration from Venezuela of the Presidency of Colombia

[email protected] 



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