Bogota, Colombia – Malteser International and Medical Teams International express concern over the Colombian government’s announcement that migrants with irregular status will not be considered in the national vaccination roll-out.
According to Migracíón Colombia, there are 1.76 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, 55% of whom have irregular migratory status. The Ministry of Health specified that migrants with regular status will be able to access the vaccines through the same process and in the same order as Colombian nationals, however, those with irregular status will be excluded.
As humanitarian organizations with a long trajectory in vaccination campaigns, we believe this is a flawed approach, both epidemiologically and ethically. The primary goal should be to stop the spread of COVID-19 which does not respect borders nor migratory status.
Health Minister Fernando Ruiz Gomez stated that it would be too difficult to identify, register and follow-up with migrants with irregular status. He also pointed out that vaccinating transitory migrants and ‘pendular’ migrants would risk overwhelming vaccination efforts and encourage additional waves of unregulated migration.
We believe these obstacles can be, and must be, overcome through planning, coordination and a commitment to equity and efficiency in ending this pandemic. A sound COVID-19 vaccination policy is comprehensive and prioritizes the populations vulnerable to infection and death including the elderly, healthcare workers and other essential workers. It also considers groups that have suffered the greatest from the impact of COVID-19 and remain most vulnerable to it: the poor, the homeless, and the hungry.
“While responding to the Venezuelan migration crisis has always been, and should remain, a national, regional and international effort, it is not justified to coordinate the distributions of vaccinations for migrants with irregular status separately from the broader population.”
“The only way to end the pandemic for anyone in Colombia, is to end it for everyone,” says Steve Cooke, Colombia Country Director for Medical Teams International.
“COVID-19 unmasked the chronic and systemic inequalities embedded into healthcare systems the world over. It has also taught us how dangerous inequalities – between countries as well as within countries – can be for our collective health,” says Ricardo Tapia, Colombia Country Coordinator for Malteser International Americas.
Migrants with irregular status are often employed in the informal economy and have been largely left out of government assistance programs. In Colombia, the vulnerable Venezuelan migrant population has faced evictions, faces a loss of income, and increasingly limited access to food and water – factors that only exacerbate the spread of the virus.
Excluding irregular migrants, who make up 55% percent of the migrant population, puts the effectiveness of the entire vaccination campaign at risk. With 2.05 million cases of Covid-19 and 52,523 deaths as of January 28, 2021, the toll of Covid-19 in Colombia is second only to Brazil in Latin America.
This type of systemic exclusion and political discourse risks prolonging this terrible pandemic and increasing xenophobia, which has been growing at alarming rates.
Malteser International recently called for equitable access to vaccines founded on an approach of global solidarity. “Anything short of that will lead to the worsening of an already bad situation. This should be clear to all governments deciding how much financial support they will provide for global access to vaccines,” said Annette Wächter-Schneider, Malteser International’s Program Director and Deputy Secretary General.
We cannot afford to continue framing healthcare as a privilege, or health care systems as inflexible to adapt to the needs of a fluid population. This is a moment of reckoning. Access to a COVID-19 vaccine cannot be dependent on arbitrary factors such as income, place of birth, or migratory status. Let us heed Pope Francis’s call to reject vaccine nationalism and acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters.
Julian de Mayo
+1 (718) 666-8397
MI Americas is an affiliate of Malteser International, the humanitarian relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta, a 900-year lay religious order with a mission to serve the poor and the sick irrespective of religion, ethnicity or political persuasion. Our work is guided by the belief that every person has the right to live a healthy life with dignity. With over 126 programs annually across 31 countries, our programs reach millions of people worldwide.
About Medical Teams International
Founded in 1979, Medical Teams International provides life-saving medical care for people in crisis, such as survivors of natural disasters and refugees. We care for the whole person— physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Daring to love like Jesus, we serve all people—regardless of religion, nationality, sex or race. Learn more at medicalteams.org and on social media using @medicalteams.
 Covid-19 en Colombia. Instituto Nacional de Salud. https://www.ins.gov.co/Noticias/Paginas/Coronavirus.aspx
 Number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Latin America and the Caribbean as of January 13, 2021, by country. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1101643/latin-america-caribbean-coronavirus-cases/
 Large Venezuelan Migration Sparks Xenophobic Backlash in Colombia. (2020, December 29) NPR. https://www.kuow.org/stories/large-venezuelan-migration-sparks-xenophobic-backlash-in-colombia; see also: Regional Refugees and Migrant Response Plan, January-December 2021, (p100). Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela. https://rmrp.r4v.info/
 COVID-19: Malteser International calls for equitable access to vaccines. (2021, January 13). Malteser International. https://www.malteser-international.org/en/about-us/service/news/press-detail-en/covid-19-malteser-international-calls-for-equitable-access-to-vaccines.html
 Christmas Message of the Holy Father and “Urbi et Orbi” Blessing on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, 25.12.2020. (2020, December 25). Holy See Press Office. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/12/25/201225a.html