BOGOTA (Reuters) - The arrival of more than a million Venezuelans fleeing a deep social and economic crisis in their country could lead to economic growth in Colombia, if the country takes the right steps to manage the migrant crisis, the World Bank said in a report released on Friday.
More than 2 million Venezuelans have emigrated amid food and medicine shortages and profound political divisions in their country, according to figures from the United Nations. Half have opted to live in Colombia, and many have arrived with only what they could carry.
Providing migrants access to healthcare, utilities and education will cost Colombia between 0.26 percent and 0.41 percent of its gross domestic product this year, the report said, adding that the country must make medium-term investments to improve those services.
But legalizing migrants - some of whom cross the two countries' porous border without visas or other permissions - will help them find formal jobs and increase tax revenue and consumption, the report said.
"Despite short-term negative impacts, the evidence suggests that if adequate policy decisions are taken, migration has the potential to generate growth in Colombia," the report said.
Colombian President Ivan Duque says Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro is a dictator, and he has promised to continue to accept migrants.
Of the 1.03 million Venezuelans living in Colombia, more than half a million have visas or other legal permission, while 240,000 are in the process of acquiring temporary permission. The remaining 217,000 lack authorization to stay.
Some 3,000 migrants arrive in Colombia each day, and the government says 4 million could be living in the country by 2021, costing Colombia nearly $9 billion.
The European Union, United Nations and the United States have given millions in aid money to help Colombia cope with the migrant influx.
Maduro and other top officials of Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party have dismissed migration figures as stemming from politically motivated alarmism and "fake news" meant to justify foreign intervention in Venezuela's affairs.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler)