In this May 2, 2019 file photo, Arelys Pulido holds her two-month-old daughter Zuleidys after she had her feet prints taken for her birth certificate at the Erazmo Meoz hospital in Cucuta, on Colombia's border with Venezuela.
In this May 2, 2019 file photo, Arelys Pulido holds her two-month-old daughter Zuleidys after she had her feet prints taken for her birth certificate at the Erazmo Meoz hospital in Cucuta, on Colombia's border with Venezuela.

GENEVA - U.N. agencies have welcomed Colombia's decision to grant citizenship to children born in the country to Venezuelan parents who were forced to flee their homeland to escape the political repression and economic hardship of President Nicolas Maduro's government. 

The U.N. refugee agency, International Organization for Migration and U.N. children's fund have hailed Colombia's action as a major step in combating statelessness. The measure, which was announced by the Colombian government earlier this week, will confer citizenship upon 24,000 children born in Colombia to Venezuelan parents since August 2016.

Without this decision, the agencies note, these children would have great difficulty acquiring Colombian citizenship as many families are unable to obtain the necessary documentation. Also, they note registering the child at the Venezuelan consulate in Colombia is not possible as services are unavailable.

Measure good for two years

The UNHCR reports this exceptional and temporary administrative measure will be valid for two years. During this time, the Colombian authorities will provide documentary proof of Colombian nationality of children born to Venezuelan parents.

UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley says the measure will guarantee and protect the birth rights of these children and provide them with a viable future.

"Stateless people can face a lifetime of exclusion and discrimination, often denied access to education, health care, and job opportunities,” Yaxley said. “Colombia's decision is hugely positive for these children and their families. Worldwide, statelessness affects millions of people, leaving them without the basic rights and official recognition that most of us take for granted."

The UNHCR says some 3.9 million stateless people are reported in 78 countries, although it believes the true number is much higher.

Millions have left Venezuela

The agency reports more than 4 million Venezuelans have left their country, making this one of the biggest displacement crises in the world. Colombia is hosting 1.4 million of them.

The three U.N. agencies are pooling their resources to financially support the Colombian government's implementation of the new measure. They are encouraging other countries in the region to follow Colombia's example by taking measures that guarantee the rights and protection of migrant children and their families.