Colombia began a two-month census of Venezuelan migrants on Friday in an attempt to oversee how many citizens from the neighboring country crossed the border due to a crisis.
The census is is supposed to allow both legal and illegal Venezuelan migrants to provide the government with confidential information to plan a possible permanent registration for migrants to stay in the country.
“The aim is to establish how many Venezuelans there are and in which regions, for how long, under what conditions they live [and] whether they work or not,” Pereira immigration official Sandra Lorena Cardenas told newspaper El Otun.
“The aim is for the government to issue a package of humanitarian measures for the attention of their human rights,” according to Cardenas.
The United Nations’ refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration would be involved in the two-month process.
It remains to be seen how the government will incentivize irregular Venezuelans to participate in the census if migrants are concerned about being deported by authorities.
Especially in the border region, hundreds of Venezuelans were sent back after failing to present the adequate papers.
As of February, 171,984 Venezuelans had solicited the free special permit to stay (PEP), which allows them to stay up to two years, but many are afraid to apply because of the potential for trouble with the government.
“Many of the Venezuelan citizens have not done the procedure of the PEP because they are afraid of being deported or that something bad will happen because they go to the Colombian authorities,” said Daniel Pages, president of the Association of Venezuelans in Colombia.
Officials estimate the country could register 800,000 Venezuelans to stay in the country depending on the census results.
According to Migration Colombia, there were 550,000 Venezuelans in the country at the end of 2017. Other sources have said there could be more than a million in the country already.
Munoz said information gathered by the government “cannot be used” to enforce deportations.