What is an Immigration Raft?
Updated: Sep 9
From experiment to project and from project to reality.
Written by: Daniel Eduardo Ortega.
Edited by: Nataly Velásquez.
At first, it may seem like a river transport service, be it a ship, boat, canoe, or some other vessel that allows people to migrate and cross maritime borders legally. However, the Migración Colombia's (National Official bureau) Immigration Raft is a floating office whose function is to provide comprehensive and even binational services to users who need to advance the entry and exit procedures of the country. These include navigation permits and customs procedures, among others, in a much easier and more practical way, becoming a friendly, efficient, and safe means, both for officials and for foreign and Colombian people who arrive by water or by land.
There are currently two rafts located on two of the main rivers in Colombia, one on the Orinoco River bordering Venezuela and the other on the Amazon River on the triple border with Peru and Brazil. Each one has all the necessary licensing and sustainable features, from solar panels to satellite connection, navigation equipment, drinking water, and wastewater processing. Being mobile, these Immigration Rafts have a better capacity to adapt to the area for proper operation and respect for the environment, since nature has its own rules and rivers constantly change their state.
All this is based on the daily experience that migrants live at the borders and the difficulty of reaching urban centers to carry out immigration procedures, hence an idea arose as a connection between countries, and an element that facilitates the transit of people, thus arriving at a first experiment which consisted of locating a migratory point in an unusual place and on one of the most obvious borders or divisions that nature can offer us: rivers. An experiment with an artisanal raft which, in addition to wanting to provide a solution, sought social acceptance, which it positively achieved, thus going from an experiment to a much more consolidated project, which responds to the needs of a territory and makes it clear that if in this place worked, possibly it could happen in another, for which it was decided to locate another Immigration Raft, turning the project into a reality supported by different shipbuilding entities and naval elements.
The construction of the rafts was carefully analyzed since the needs of each region had to be taken into account and an optimal solution that would fit in with the territory and the community had to be sought. The harmony and dialogue with nature that characterizes these places so much could not be lost by imposing some foreign element that in the future would not end up being attached to them.
It is there that Migración Colombia together with the local authorities decided to carry out this project initially in the Amazon River, with the help of people experienced in the construction of rafts who could guarantee a self-sufficient product adapted to the priorities of the population and the entity.
This project, carried out in December 2017, had an investment of 823 million Colombian pesos from the General Royalties System (An entity that seeks to correctly distribute income from the exploitation of natural resources) and benefits more than 75,000 people a year. It is a point where Migration Peru and Migration Colombia work together, allowing travelers to register with their passport or identity document.
On the other hand, in the year 2020 and located on the Orinoco River, a new raft called “Las Toninas” was built, referring to the dolphins that inhabit its waters and providing a sense of ownership and identity for the inhabitants with its name.
This 140 m2 raft achieves a higher level of modernity, without neglecting local needs. It has the basic amenities for an official to carry out their work on a daily basis, as well as a cafeteria, offices, restrooms, and an area where people can wait to be served.
In the Balsa Las Toninas, river migration control is exercised and more than 150 people are served per day, both Colombian citizens and those from Venezuela.
These Immigration Rafts provide a better quality of life by reducing the time and costs that people have to cover in travel to the airports to carry out all the errands related to the passage from one State to another.
"Innovation and comfort are assets that our users greatly appreciate"
Humberto Velasquez Ardila, Deputy Director of Immigration Control at Migración Colombia, spoke with Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, CEO of Seaphia. We invite you to discover more details about the Immigration Rafts in our Floating Cities Show interview.
It is clear that the world is changing, and the novelty that brings improvements is the tool that most helps us fit into this planet in a symbiotic way. Politically there are borders but these are less palpable in the physical world. Today it is normal for families to have different nationalities, and the unification that this project can provide through a more agile and sensitive service can be key to generating a brotherhood between countries that is much more humane and beneficial for all parties.
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