With more than 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) uprooted by Colombia’s decades-long civil war and hundreds of thousands more seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, the United Nations refugee agency is calling for more international attention to be paid to the humanitarian crisis.
“These numbers, which continue to rise, make the Colombian situation not only the largest UNHCR operation in the Americas but also one of the world’s biggest and most forgotten humanitarian tragedies,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today.
UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins has just concluded a four-day mission to neighbouring Ecuador and today is expected to cross the border into Colombia on her way to the city of Pasto in the department of Nariño, which has seen a marked increase in violence and forced displacement since the start of the year.
In Colombia, she is scheduled to visit UNHCR’s projects for displaced people in the cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena. About half of Colombia's internally displaced live in urban centres, many of them in poor suburbs that are little more than shantytowns. Ms. Cheng-Hopkins is scheduled to meet government officials in Bogota, the capital.
Beyond the IDPs within Colombia, there are a quarter of a million Colombians in need of protection in Ecuador, and tens of thousands more of concern to UNHCR in other countries in the region, such as Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica.
While in Ecuador, Ms. Cheng-Hopkins met with leading officials. She said she shared the Government’s concerns that the number of Colombian refugees continues to grow on a monthly basis. More solidarity should be shown with countries like Ecuador which are bearing the brunt of the crisis, she added.
UNHCR has repeatedly expressed its alarm at the impact on civilians of the more than 40 years of fighting between the Government, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries in the Andean country.
In recent months it has voiced particular concern for the countries indigenous communities, some of whom are threatened with extinction as the fighting uproots them from their ancestral lands to which their culture and traditions are closely linked.