UN agency reports new Colombian refugees arriving in Venezuela

9 July 2004

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a team in Venezuela's border state of Apure evaluating the humanitarian and protection needs of around 200 Colombians who fled fighting in their home country earlier this week.

"Some of the group wish to seek refugee status in Venezuela while others would like to return to Colombia once the security situation improves," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said today in Geneva. "UNHCR is contacting the military, government and immigration authorities to inform them of the influx and to coordinate a response."

According to Mr. Redmond, the group reportedly fled from Puerto Lleras, in Colombia's Arauca department, across the border into the Alto Apure region following fighting between illegal armed groups in Colombia. They are sheltering in an old palm-oil processing plant.

He said the numbers of Colombian asylum seekers in Apure have been increasing steadily this year, rising to 1,117 at the end of May from 299 in January. Around 40 per cent of all the Colombian asylum-seekers in Venezuela are staying in Apure state, one of three Venezuelan states bordering Colombia.

In a separate development, the Venezuelan National Refugee Commission granted temporary protection status last Friday to 292 indigenous Wayúu who fled to Venezuela in May following armed conflict in their Colombian community of Bahia Portete, La Guajira.

"This is the first time that the Venezuelan Government has granted this type of protection status and UNHCR views this favourably," Mr. Redmond said.

He noted that an increasing number of indigenous people have been affected by the Colombian conflict this year. In addition to the hundreds of Wayúu forced to flee into Venezuela, other indigenous groups in the border zone such as the Yukpa and Barí have found themselves hosting Colombian farmers who also fled fighting.


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