UN agency helps Ecuador to deal with backlog of Colombian asylum-seekers

UN agency helps Ecuador to deal with backlog of Colombian asylum-seekers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supporting Ecuador's efforts to cope with scores of Colombians who have sought protection in the country after fleeing conflict in their homeland, a spokesman for the agency said today.

"UNHCR has sent a status determination team to Ecuador to support the Ecuadorian refugee commission's efforts to deal with a growing backlog of asylum requests from Colombians," spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva. The UNHCR team, sent to Ecuador at the request of the Quito Government, has been travelling throughout the border region, interviewing asylum seekers and providing training and advice to Ecuadorian officials.

The agency estimates that more than 1,800 Colombians have requested asylum in Ecuador so far this year. "In the second half of 2000, over 12,000 people fled to Ecuador, mainly from the Putumayo region of Colombia," said Mr. Janowski. "Most of them returned to Colombia without requesting protection in Ecuador, but some 1,480 were recognized as refugees."

UNHCR is providing basic emergency assistance, including food packages, medical supplies, education and housing support to the refugees.

Mr. Janowski lauded Ecuador, a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, for its "generosity" towards those who have fled to the country.

UNHCR, which has offices in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia, estimates that well over 1 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Colombia since 1995.