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Hi there,

Today we welcome millions to Colombia, go to the polls in the Palestinian Territories, and learn an origin story for COVID. As a bonus, we tell you what to read, watch, and eat for the rest of the week.

Enjoy,

Alex Kliment

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Hi there,

Today we welcome millions to Colombia, go to the polls in the Palestinian Territories, and learn an origin story for COVID. As a bonus, we tell you what to read, watch, and eat for the rest of the week.

Enjoy,

Alex Kliment

 

Colombian President Iván Duque earlier this week announced that as many as 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants currently in Colombia will now be authorized to live and work legally in the country for ten years.

As humanitarian gestures by world leaders go, it's hard to find something on this scale in recent history.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel's fateful "Wir schaffen das" (We can do this) decision in 2015 allowed up to one million refugees to apply for asylum. Duque's move, by contrast, welcomes nearly twice that number of people to stay for at least a decade.

Bold as it is, it could also be deeply unpopular. To refresh, Colombia has received almost a third of the roughly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled economic collapse and political chaos in their home country in recent years. That's more than any other country, by far.

And while many Colombians were initially welcoming to their neighbors in need — in part because in the 1990s Venezuela served as a refuge for millions of Colombians fleeing violence themselves — attitudes have hardened over time.

Two thirds of Colombians now oppose Venezuelans staying in Colombia, and three quarters say the Venezuelan border should remain closed even after pandemic-related entry restrictions are lifted, according to a December survey by the Medellín-based pollster Invamer.

In part that's because of economic concerns: with the official unemployment rate at close to 16 percent, many Colombians worry about competition to find jobs. Social media-fueled rumors about Venezuelans being responsible for crime spikes in Colombia's big cities have added to the stigma, even though — like most social media rumors — they've been disproven.

Normalizing the status of 1.7 million people will doubtless add to those pressures, while also potentially encouraging more refugees to come if they think there will be further amnesties of this kind in the future.

So why is Duque — struggling with a mere 36 percent approval rating — doing it? For one thing, there are moral and even international legal arguments for the obligation to protect refugees. But there is also a very strong practical one: what's the alternative?

While some Venezuelan refugees have opted to return home — as GZERO media found last July — the overwhelming majority will stay.

Giving them a way to do so legally makes it possible for them to join the formal economy, where they can earn normal wages, receive benefits, and pay taxes. And it gives the state the ability to better keep track of who is in the country and where. Importantly, once they have status, they will be eligible for COVID vaccines — a subject of some recent controversy when Duque said that undocumented Venezuelans wouldn't get the jab.

The alternative is to leave close to two million people in a state of legal and financial limbo, increasing their desperation, making it easier for them not only to undercut Colombian workers, but to be targeted and recruited by criminal groups.

It's by no means an easy decision, and Duque could yet pay a steep political price. What would you have done if you were Duque? Please let us know.

 

 
 
 

The exodus of Venezuelan nationals is currently the world's second largest refugee crisis, exceeded only by the one in Syria. Of the close to 5 million Venezuelans currently living outside their country, more than 80 percent are located throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with the lion's share hosted by neighboring Colombia. How might Colombian President Iván Duque's move to grant all of them temporary legal status affect other nations' policies towards Venezuelan migrants and refugees? We take a look at which other Latin American countries have sizable populations of Venezuelans at the moment.


 

 
 
 

The global Microsoft Digital Civility Index (DCI) improved in 2020, bouncing back from its lowest reading in four years, even as Covid-19 upended the world. A feeling of solidarity during the pandemic among people in some regions, as well as responsible online interactions by teenagers in particular, helped drive the index's three-point recovery. We released these findings in conjunction with international Safer Internet Day on Feb. 9 to shine a light on the need for safer, healthier and more respectful online interactions among all people. This latest report marks five straight years in which Microsoft has been examining civility and online risk exposure among young people and adults. To read the report and findings, visit Microsoft on the Issues.


 

 
 
 

Colombia has had to deal with millions of Venezuelan migrants escaping economic and humanitarian catastrophe. Now that Colombians are taking responsibility, Ian Bremmer argues the US should be fully supportive. Watch more on this week's episode of World in 60 Seconds.


 

 
 
 

Australian journalist charged in China: Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained last August in China for allegedly passing state secrets to foreign actors. Now, the reporter — who worked for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN when she was arrested — has been formally charged with a national security crime, though Beijing has unsurprisingly remained mum on the details. Her family (including two young children in Melbourne) say that Lei is innocent, while the Australian government has pleaded with Beijing to ensure due process. But Canberra's ability to lobby for Lei's release is surely hampered by its increasingly fraught relations with Beijing: Australia has criticized Beijing's meddling in Australia's internal government affairs, its spying activities, and called for a probe into China's alleged COVID coverup — prompting China to hit back with a series of devastating tariffs on Australian goods. The Chinese government has also targeted Australian journalists, and the last two Aussie reporters in mainland China recently fled at Canberra's urging. For now, Lei remains behind bars. Is the Australian government powerless to respond?


Palestinian election summit: Palestinian leaders kicked off a two-day summit in Cairo to discuss upcoming legislative (May 22) and presidential (July 31) elections, the first time Palestinians will head to the polls in 15 years. The Egyptian-brokered talks between longtime Palestinian foes — Fatah, which governs the occupied West Bank, and Hamas, the militant group that holds power in the Gaza Strip — aim to iron out procedural arrangements for the upcoming votes, including whose security forces will guard polling stations and which judicial body will resolve disputes. Palestinians have not held elections since 2006, when Hamas — designated a terror group by the US and the EU — won by a significant margin, leading to a shaky unity government and bloody power battle that saw Hamas seize control of the Strip. Fatah was eventually relegated to the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas has since led a 15-year "emergency government." We're watching to see whether the polls will even take place at all, since previous elections have been scheduled only to be later rejected by those at the top.

WHO ends COVID probe in China: Wrapping up a hard-fought visit to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, a team of World Health Organization experts announced Tuesday that it's "extremely unlikely" that COVID leaked from a lab. That initial conclusion poured cold water on the conspiracy theory — promoted at the onset of the pandemic by former US President Donald Trump — that the virus was either engineered by or accidentally released from a Chinese lab, a claim most scientists have long dismissed. The WHO team said it is "most likely" the virus was transmitted to humans from an animal at a wet market, but possible it came from a different source, like from imported frozen food products, for instance. WHO says their probe is ongoing, but the inconclusive findings so far are surely a relief for Beijing, which has often pushed unscientific alternative theories that the coronavirus did not originate in China. We'll be keeping an eye on whether the full investigation comes out with any definitive findings, and if other countries will even trust the probe given perceptions of the WHO being too cozy with China.

 

 
 
 

Back by popular demand, a weekly list of suggestions for things to read, see, hear, eat, and experience — curated by your Signalistas. Send us your own recs, maybe we'll run one in a future edition of Signal. This week we've got…

Watch — Room 2806: In 2011, former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was on the cusp of becoming France's next president when he was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel room cleaner in New York City, derailing his political ambitions. The scandal prompted other women to come forward with allegations of sexual assault against the prominent French politician, and exposed some other shady sexual escapades of his. How these events intersected with French politics at the time — Nicolas Sarkozy was president then — is the subject of a new Netflix miniseries that Gabrielle is totally immersed in. It's called Room 2806: The Accusation.

Eat — Cha ca la vong: There's a tiny restaurant in old Hanoi that Carlos knows which serves only this one dish: cha ca la vong — grilled catfish cut into small chunks, served on a charcoal burner with a turmeric-based sauce with lots of dill, and eaten with vermicelli noodles and peanuts. Now, although you have the recipe here, you should know that cha ca la vong made outside of this one Hanoi eatery is as inauthentic as paella made outside Valencia, but don't let that stop you.

Watch — Where is the friend's house? This breakthrough 1987 film by famed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami appears at first to be about an 8-year-old boy's determination to return a lost notebook to save his friend from expulsion from school. But it's really about the debts we owe our fellow human beings and the common value of honoring them. There are no subplots. It's 83 minutes in the life of a hero on a mission. If Willis loves it, and he does, so will you.

Read — Nicky and Vera: In 1938, a young British banker named Nicholas Winton skipped a ski vacation in order to visit Prague, which had just been occupied by the Nazis. He spent the next several months organizing the rescue of 669 Czech Jewish children, who spent the war with foster families in England. Winton kept it all a secret until the mid-1980s when his wife found the documents, and the survivors who owed their lives to him. A beautiful new book by award-winning children's book illustrator Peter Sís tells the intersecting stories of Winton and Vera Gissing, one of the children he saved. Alex says you don't have to have kids to read it, but if you do, read it to them too.


 

 
 
 

25: The Ethiopian government has finally allowed 25 more UN workers to enter the conflict-ridden Tigray region. Over 2 million people have been displaced since fighting between Addis Ababa and Tigray separatist forces broke out in November — and human rights groups say many more aid workers are needed to help stem the deepening humanitarian crisis.


7: Sudan's prime minister announced a new government that includes seven former rebel leaders who were involved in the Darfur genocide in the early 2000s. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dissolved the previous joint civilian-military cabinet that came into power after the ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir, creating a new body that, he says, "aims to preserve this country from collapse" as sectarian clashes continue in Darfur.

3: Three European governments — Sweden, Germany and Poland — have expelled Russian diplomats in response to Moscow throwing out diplomats from their respective countries last week for joining street protests against the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The tit-for-tat measures reflect deteriorating relations between Russia and Europe as they try to reach an agreement on an undersea pipeline.

5: A koala caused a five-car pileup after trying to cross a busy freeway in Adelaide, southern Australia. No people involved in the car crash required hospitalization, and the koala has since been released back into the wild, away from the six-lane highway.

 

 
 

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This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, Carlos Santamaria, and Willis Sparks. The Graphic Truth was made by Paige Fusco. Spiritual counsel from a lawyer who is (not) a cat.

 

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