A new report from a Venezuela non-governmental organization working on migration issues shows that Colombia's criminal groups have been recruiting Venezuelans into their ranks at an accelerated rate. The mass exodus of those fleeing the crisis in Venezuela has been exploited by these groups to bolster their number with the forced recruitment of women and young people.
The report by the Fundación Redes (Fundaredes) estimates that between 60 and 70 percent of members in certain Colombian gangs, such as Los Rastrojos, are Venezuelans aged between 16 and 25.
The study was prepared with the support of NGOs, such as Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación) and the Progresar Foundation, and garnered testimonies from victims of these groups. These include a poignant account from a Venezuelan woman who, after crossing the border in July 2018 with relatives, had to jump out of a moving vehicle to escape from a man who was trying to force them to join a guerrilla group.
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By mid-2018, Fundaredes reported that more than 15,000 Venezuelan minors were serving in up to a dozen criminal organizations operating along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. However, figures from the Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas para la Paz – FIP)Ideas for La Paz foundation are more conservative. According to this Colombian NGO, approximately 300 Venezuelans joined the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and some five criminal groups take advantage of the human mobility crisis generated in Venezuela.
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The recruitment of Venezuelans along the border with Colombia is not new, with cases being documented throughout 2018. But the increase in this phenomenon is becoming a severe cause for worry for NGOs and international organizations dealing with Venezuelan migration.
While governments on both sides have some data about this recruitment, the Fundaredes report is the only publicly available document to provide such details about how these victims are recruited and the percentage of Venezuelans that are part of these criminal groups.
In 2018, Fundaredes documented over 250 complaints of Venezuelans who were targeted by these recruitment efforts when crossing the border.
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The director of Fundaredes, Javier Tarazona, told InSight Crime that the organization has monitored this situation since 2009, allowing them to gain the trust of inhabitants of borders areas and even of dissidents from guerrilla groups.
"We have had access to dissidents from these paramilitary and guerrilla groups that have informed us of the recruitment process. This is how we have been able to understand the recruitment and indoctrination process for the new members of these groups," assured Tarazona.
The Venezuelan diaspora is continuously growing with the International Organization for Migration reporting that it had reached three million by November 2018, of which more than one million are in Colombia. This plays right into the hands of the criminal groups that act with impunity along with the Colombian-Venezuelan border, while perfecting their modus operandi to lure more and more fleeing Venezuelans into their ranks.