A senior official of the United Nations refugee agency is in Ecuador today continuing the second part of a week-long mission that began in Colombia, which has sent large numbers of asylum seekers to its South American neighbour.
Yesterday, Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane met with representatives of the Ecuadorian Bishops' Conference, the main partner of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ecuador, a spokesman for the agency said in Geneva.
Mr. Morjane then visited the premises of the Bishops' Conference Committee for Refugees - the largest refugee and asylum seeker reception centre in the country. There, he met Colombian asylum seekers as they waited to be interviewed. Since January 2000, Ecuador has received more than 21,000 asylum seekers and has granted refugee status to almost 7,000 individuals, mostly from Colombia.
Later yesterday, Mr. Morjane travelled to Lago Agrio in the northern province of Sucumbios, close to the Colombian border. "He said he was struck by the seriousness of the plight of Colombian refugees, but was heartened to see a number of small-scale activities that are benefiting both refugees and local residents," spokesman Kris Janowski said, hailing a women's initiative to produce fruit jam and preserves for the local market, supporting community health promoters and organic home farming initiatives in the process.
Mr. Morjane arrived in the Ecuadorian capital Quito on Wednesday, where he visited the Office for Refugees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He then met with the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Patricio Zuquilanda. During their talks, the UN official thanked Ecuador for its tradition of hospitality to refugees and urged the Minister to continue to receive Colombian refugees in the same humanitarian spirit.
The Assistant High Commissioner also stressed the need to distinguish between people with genuine protection concerns from people engaged in illegal activities, and assured the minister of UNHCR's continued support to Ecuador in the task of providing protection and assistance to refugees, according to the spokesman.