Recapping Techfugees Live Session Recap: about financial inclusion for Venezuelan migrants in Colombia
The Techfugees Live Sessions are a series of online talks which complement the work of the Techfugees Data Hub, a platform that maps the socio-economic challenges faced by displaced communities through a volunteer network of local contributors. You can find the full list of sessions on YouTube here.
This post is a recap of Session 10, which focused on Venezuelan migrants and displaced persons in Colombia. The session took place on 20 April, 2021. Watch the full recording here👇🏽
Earlier this year, Colombia did something momentous. In February, it announced that it would offer a ten-year temporary protective status to the 1.7 millions Venezuelan migrants without papers in the country, facilitating their right to work legally and making it easier for them to access social services.
It was a timely move – in 2021 Colombia welcomed more than 37% of the estimated 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the UNHCR. In comparison, Peru has more than 1 million, the Dominican Republic has 100,000, Brazil has more than 250,000, Panama has 151,000 and Mexico has 100,000, according to Lucas Gomez, Secretario de Frontera for the Colombian government and one of the speakers at the Techfugees Live Session.
Colombia is “the second country worldwide receiving migrants and refugees after Turkey in Europe”, pointed out Leila Peltier, the Techfugees Data Hub’s Colombia lead and project manager at Comparte Por Una Vida Colombia, who co-moderated the Techfugees Live Session. “It is very important to keep in mind this data, while we’re all talking and speaking about this situation.”
Bearing all this in mind, speakers at the 10th Techfugees Live Session focused on a key aspect of the migration flow between Venezuela and Colombia: pendular migration, or the daily movement of people between their home and workplace or school across the border.
From the Colombian Government perspective
First up was Lucas Gomez, Secretario de Frontera for the Colombian government. He talked extensively about the key challenges faced by authorities, and stressed how the new temporary protective status regime would help integrate Venezuelan migrants and displaced persons into the community.
The main objective? “To register Venezuelan migrants and gather relevant data on their socioeconomic profiles,” he said. “We are convinced that we have to know who they are – in that way, we can protect the people.” “We need to move to the socioeconomic integration for the migrants,” he added. “This is the only way.”
A key driver of the temporary protective status policy was the need to move forward with the financial inclusion of such migrants, according to the government official. It’s a “powerful mechanism” for generating income for the migrant population, and facilitates formal employment as well as formal access to all social services. Let’s remember that “illegal” migration represents 70% of the migratory flux to Colombia.
“I always say that with this kind of flow, migration flows, you have just two options,” he told the audience. “The first one is to say that migration is very hard, migration is bad, and you’re just saying that it’s very difficult to move to the integration policy (…) But the second way – I think that is the only way – is to say okay, they are here to stay, I have to work for this social and economic integration.”
From the associative space perspective: COMPARTE POR UNA VIDA COLOMBIA
To complement the macro overview to understand the forced migration context in Colombia, we had the pleasure to hear from Lala Lovera, director of Comparte Por Una Vida Colombia, a local NGO which has been working at the border for a few years to support access to information and education. A few weeks ahead of the Live Session, she presented the situation Live through the Humans of Techfugees Campaign to raise funds for IT material.
She spoke in particular about teenagers and children crossing the border every day to study in Colombia, and how her organisation works to keep them in school and formally registered. “We have to keep them safe. We have to turn those spaces, which are Colombian schools, into the safest places for them. These migrant children, almost 420,000 children in Colombia right now, they are at a huge risk of all the violence that you can imagine,” she said.
Like Lucas Gomez, she stressed the need for data and information to better understand the needs of families whose lives straddle the border, in order to raise these needs to the government and shared a X Ray, a snapshot of data collected in 2020-2021 from interviews and surveys on the ground.
Pointing our that 35% of Venezuelan migrants only have one smartphone for the whole family, Lala Lovera, stressed the need for help with getting devices and connectivity into schools. “Having this connectivity and access to smartphones is vital for migrants in the border region”, she said, and encouraged the private sector to support the effort of the government.
“For them, having a phone, it’s not only a smartphone; it’s a phone to work for the parents, it’s a phone to get to school, to a teenager it’s to finish their work, it’s to get connected with their families,” she said. “These schools need the private sector to help the local governments to bring connectivity; public connectivity and free connectivity in these schools,” she added. She welcomed anyone interested in helping in any way to get in touch.
A concrete exemple of #Tech4refugees solution: DIGNIFAI
Our third speaker, Enrique Jose Garcia, introduced a possible answer to the issues of access to employment and financial independence, through a tech project called DignifAI.
The private organisation trains Venezuelan migrants and Colombian internally displaced persons to offer outsourcing data labelling services developing Artificial Intelligence software (Natural language processing, video and image annotation, data entry) with a Spanish and Portugese focus, and offers remote work opportunities to their trainees.
For example, they have worked with Penn State University to do sentiment analysis and text recognition on a database of 24,000 tweets in Spanish, while another project with Columbia University saw them work on a database of over 30,000 invoices in Portugese, carrying out data entry cleaning and transaction matching.
Like Lucas Gomez, Enrique Garcia was optimistic about the potential economic impact that migration can bring. “Recipient countries are facing a potential economic boost if proper long-term integration is achieved with this population,” he said. “If you see the glass half empty, there is a fiscal burden, there are challenges,” he added. “If you see the glass half full, there are major opportunities with integrating and incorporating this migration flow.”
Of course, the work comes with its own challenges, with a key one being the issue of payment and getting workers to adopt fintech solutions. The border region is a “very cash infused” region and has been so historically, pointed out Enrique, and this means risks of assaults when getting your salary in cash from a local store. Pendular migrants might be reluctant to sign up to payment platforms, for example, as this might require an additional documentation burden, or additional expenses. “But also a lot of compensation that they earn, one of the main purposes is to remit it back to Venezuela,” he added. “And a lot of these applications do not have the same use in Venezuela, or are not even present in Venezuela.”
He ended with a call to action: Moving forward, there is a need for digital education content so people can understand how they can participate in the gig economy and how to find new employment online, he said. He called for any potential partners or social enterprise providers of digital educational content to get in touch. He is reachable on Basefugees, our repertory of responsible digital innovations curated with and for displaced persons.
Article written by Nicole Chang, digital journalist volunteering with Techfugees.
And you can find all the other sessions collected here