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Driven by fighting at home, Colombians seek asylum abroad, UNHCR says

Driven by fighting at home, Colombians seek asylum abroad, UNHCR says

The United Nations refugees agency today reported that in recent months, the deteriorating conflict in Colombia has sent thousands of people to neighbouring countries and beyond in search of asylum.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 6,000 Colombian asylum applications were received in the first half of 2001 in Europe and North America - more than twice the number received over the same period last year. "In these regions combined, Colombians now represent the twelfth largest nationality requesting asylum, up from a ranking of 21 for the first six months of 2000," agency spokeswoman Millicent Mutuli told reporters in Geneva.

Regionally, Costa Rica has seen a sharp increase in Colombian asylum applications this year, with over 2,500 new arrivals registered from January through June, compared to just over 300 during the same period in 2000. "The trend has continued in July and the first half of August, with a record high of over 1,000 new Colombian arrivals in less than six weeks," Ms. Mutuli said.

In response, UNHCR has dispatched a refugee status determination team to Costa Rica to help the Government deal with the growing backlog of asylum claims. The team is interviewing asylum seekers, reviewing pending cases, and providing advice, training and equipment to the Government.

A similar UNHCR team has been working with the Government of Ecuador, which has received over 1,800 requests for asylum from Colombians so far this year, compared to less than 30 such requests in the first six months of 2000.

Ms. Mutuli indicated that the problem might be more widespread than it appears. "The number of Colombians seeking asylum in the region and further abroad likely represents only a small percentage of those Colombians currently outside their country, many of whom may not have asked for asylum," she said, adding, "hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Colombia itself."

Meanwhile, the UN Information Centre in Colombia today reported that Lars Franklin, who was serving as UN Resident Coordinator in the country, died of natural causes. A national of Sweden, Mr. Franklin was a career diplomat who worked for the UN for the last seven years, first in Guatemala and, since May 2001, in Colombia.