Prepare to host Ukrainians for long term, Colombian vice-president warns Europe

Ramírez advises European countries to keep register of refugees crossing their borders

Countries across Europe must be prepared to host and support tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in the "medium to long term" because their displacement will not be a short-term issue, the vice-president of Colombia has said during a trip to Ireland.

Speaking in light of her own country’s experience of hosting more than 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans, Marta Lucía Ramírez, who is also Colombia’s foreign minister, advised European countries to keep a register of all Ukrainians crossing their borders so they can keep track of children and vulnerable people.

“If you don’t know who is coming, you cannot help them enough,” she said. “You need to know how many families, how many children, what are their capacities, their education, their experience.”

Efforts should also be made to ensure Ukrainians of working age can enter the labour market without delay, she added. Colombian president Iván Duque announced last year that his government would provide temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants, allowing them to work legally and stay in the country for 10 years.

“It’s important that these people become part of the labour force; they cannot be living in camps forever, this is not a humane condition,” said the vice-president.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was not only impacting the economic and political stability of Europe but was creating "turmoil" for the whole world, she said. "This Russian invasion means that we are going to suffer inflation for the next few months and that's not only Europe, it's the entire world. Food inflation will be very harmful for everybody so we have to work together. This is a moment to stand for values, to stand for democracy, to stand for freedom, to stand for the rule of law, to stand for the international law."

Peace and stability

Stability and peace are two goals the vice-president has become very accustomed to working towards in recent years. In 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebel group, ending more than 50 years of conflict in the country. However, since then, Farc dissidents, who reject the 2016 deal, have continued to battle members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), driving a new cycle of violence over coca production, smuggling and drug trafficking.

Ramírez said the peace agreement was made “without enough conditions to make Farc help the Colombian state to eliminate narco trafficking”.

"They're not obliged to provide information about their logistics, how they produce, where are their laboratories, how they export, the linkages with Venezuela because more than 70 per cent of Colombian drugs go out through Venezuela. If we have narco trafficking, it's impossible to achieve peace."

More international co-operation was needed if Colombia is to defeat drug cartels and stop the harvesting of coca crops which was resulting in the indiscriminate killing of people in rural areas, she said. Those purchasing and consuming cocaine in the West must also understand the supply chain which brings this product from rural Colombia to the streets of European cities and towns.

“This problem affects everybody. We have to show people how they produce cocaine – using cement, gasoline and other elements – and they are putting this into their brains and their bodies.”

Consumers must also understand the knock-on effect cocaine consumption has on deforestation in Colombia, she added. “The same people who are advocating for sustainability, for a good and clean environment, have to understand that it’s a big contradiction that they are still consuming cocaine here. But this is something that Colombia cannot solve alone, we need international co-operation.”

Since her election in 2018 – Ramírez is the first woman to be elected and serve as deputy head of state in Colombia’s history – the vice-president has focused much of her energy on promoting gender equality initiatives. Supporting more women to play a role in the country’s economic and political development builds stronger incomes and creates more jobs, said Ramírez, who will complete her four-year term as vice-president later this year.

Last month's congressional election saw Colombians vote 85 women into positions of power (28.8 per cent of seats), an increase of 9 per cent on 2018 figures. However, Colombia continues to trail behind its Latin American neighbours – 55.6 per cent of seats in the Bolivian congress are held by women while 43.1 per cent are held by women in Argentina.

Helping women enter politics not only transformed a society but also ensured ending domestic violence was a priority within government, said Ramírez. “I don’t like this idea that we are working for women only to end violence. Of course violence is a reality, but it’s a consequence of a lack of autonomy for women. That’s why our broad idea is promoting and strengthening women at all levels of society.”