The United Nations refugee agency today hailed Venezuela's granting of refugee status to the first group of Colombian asylum seekers to pass through its new application process.
At the same time the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strongly condemned the murder of two members of an association of internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Colombia, where at least 1 million people have been uprooted by the decades-long civil conflict.
Venezuela's action grants the 47 Colombians formal identification papers recognizing their right to live, work and study in the country. "For victims of the Colombian conflict, the granting of refugee status is important because it opens up the possibility of rebuilding their lives in Venezuela," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told a news briefing in Geneva.
He said the action constituted a "historic step towards international refugee protection."
The agency called on the Colombian authorities to punish the murderers of Marta Cecilia Aguirre, a 36-year-old mother of four, and Giovanni de Jesús Montoya Molina, a 45-year-old father of one, who were killed in front of their homes in the north-western town of Apartado on Sunday in separate attacks by unidentified armed men in civilian clothes.
The murders are the latest in a string of attacks against individuals and groups involved in human rights work for Colombia's IDPs. More than 1 million IDPs are registered with the government, but non-governmental organizations estimate there could be close to 3 million IDPs in all.
According to official sources, 74 per cent are women and children. The adult women have often been victims of sexual violence. Many also have had to assume the role of heads of household after the death or disappearance of their husbands, UNHCR said.
Over 2,300 people have requested refugee status in Venezuela, but up to 15,000 are estimated to be in need of protection, according to the agency. Tens of thousands of additional victims of the conflict have requested refugee status in neighbouring Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica. Many thousands more have sought asylum in the United States, Canada and Europe.