UN refugee agency ‘extremely concerned’ for Colombia’s indigenous people

UN refugee agency ‘extremely concerned’ for Colombia’s indigenous people

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The United Nations refugee agency expressed grave concern today over the impact of Colombia’s civil conflict on the country’s indigenous peoples, including forced displacement and reports of rape, and called upon all armed groups to respect the rights of the civilian population and guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers.

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is extremely concerned” about the situation, the agency’s spokesman, Kris Janowski, told reporters in Geneva.

Last week, hundreds of Guahibo-Sikuani indigenous people were forced to flee their homes as a result of heavy fighting between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries in the municipality of Tame, in the northeastern province (department) of Arauca, close to the Colombian border with Venezuela.

According to reports by municipal authorities, members of irregular armed groups have raped several indigenous women and girls, Mr. Janowski said.

Another group at risk of displacement are the Kuna, also known as Tule, in northwest Colombia, close to the border with Panama, he added. This community of some 400 members is considering leaving its ancestral lands and crossing the border into Panama to escape threats and intimidation by Colombian irregular armed groups.

UNHCR has been coordinating with the government’s Ombudsman's Office, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia and non-governmental organizations in order to monitor the situation in Tame. UNHCR is also liasing with the government agency dealing with internal displacement so that emergency assistance can be brought to the affected communities.