A Colombian NGO is urging the state to take special measures to protect LGBT+ migrants fleeing hardship in Venezuela only to face new discrimination risks across the border.
BOGOTÁ — Venezuela"s political, social and economic crisis has created a complex migratory phenomenon that is also impacting the areas to which Venezuelans are moving. But while all migrants are in positions of vulnerability, certain groups face a particularly focused level of violence and discrimination.
Such is the case of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex) migrants, who are victims not just of xenophobia, but also of mistreatment due to their sexual orientation or gender expressions, the NGO Caribe Afirmativo found in a report focused on districts near the Colombia/Venezuela border.
While many in this community have migrated in recent years because of Venezuela's more generalized problems, some cite discrimination — with regards to healthcare, for example — as another motivating factor. LGBT+ people are also vulnerable to various forms of violence from state, paramilitary or social forces, and have been excluded, in many cases, from their families.
Xenophobia is combining with prejudices against gender identity.
The report was based on testimonies given by Venezuelan migrants now living in Colombia, and on a pair of meetings that Caribe Afirmativo organized as a part of a larger community service project — called Casas de Paz — in the districts of Maicao and Ciénaga, in the Guajira and Magdalena departments respectively.
LGBT+ migrants talked about reaching Colombia via the Paraguanchón border crossing, often through use of bribes or by having to give food or money to either Bolivarian guards in Venezuela or Colombian agents on this side. There are documented cases of verbal or physical aggression toward LGBT+ migrants in these situations.
There is also evidence of attacks by regular citizens, and of sexual aggression toward female LGBT+ migrants in particular. "In witness accounts compiled by Caribe Afirmativo, lesbian and bisexual women recounted attempts by drivers transporting them to abuse them sexually or even sell them to illegal armed groups," the report reads.
The organization's head, Wilson Castañeda, says a particular concern now is an increase in attacks against transsexual women in certain Colombian cities. "In the last year we've seen an increase in violence, even homicides, against Venezuelan transwomen in public surroundings," he says. "The biggest concern is in the high level of crime against LGBT+ people of Venezuelan origin. Xenophobia is combining with prejudices against gender identity. And in some cases, this elevated level of criminality is led by state authorities and can include practices like deportation."
The Ombudsman's office had already raised the alarm in 2018, several times informing the Interior Ministry of violations against the population in Valledupar and warning of a "possible and suspected "social cleansing" plan aimed at transwomen, especially those who engage occasionally or full-time in sex work."
The office reported in May there have been three reported cases of transwomen shot by police in Valledupar, with separate reports in Bogotá of grave physical assaults on Venezuelan transwomen. For Caribe Afirmativo, the absence of supplementary legal provisions to protect migrants in conditions of illegality is particularly relevant for the LGBT+ population, as "historical discriminations' mean many "have found themselves opting to migrate by irregular means."
An area of particular concern in this irregular framework is health and, especially, access to medicines for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The report counted the deaths of seven gay Venezuelan men in the Caribbean region in 2018, attributed to their earlier arrival in Colombia in an already poor state for lack of access to anti-retroviral drugs. Caribe Afirmativo says it knows of 29 LGBT+ citizens of Venezuelan origin having to take legal action that year to access required medicines.
The NGO is now urging the Colombian state to establish specific protocols to attend to this segment of Venezuelan migrants, including identification of the routes they use to arrive in Colombia, particular transit mechanisms and the risks they face. The state, it adds, should take immediate actions to attend to the more vulnerable elements, like sex workers.