With 2.5 million Colombians displaced by the country’s four-decades-long civil war and more people joining their ranks every year, a senior United Nations refugee official has called for greater international efforts to help alleviate what she called an invisible humanitarian tragedy.
Wrapping up a week-long visit to Colombia and Ecuador last night, Assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Judy Cheng-Hopkins underlined the difficulties her agency faces in providing protection in a vast country where the conflict has spread out to many departments and is at its worst in remote rural locations.
During a meeting at the Foreign Ministry yesterday she expressed appreciation for the Government’s stepped-up efforts to help those displaced people, noting especially the significant increase in the budget allocated to assistance.
Ms. Cheng-Hopkins, who started her visit of the region in Ecuador last week, also stressed the close link between displacement and refugee outflows. In addition to the 2.5 million displaced internally, there are hundreds of thousands of Colombians who have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence, mostly to Ecuador and Venezuela.
She said it was crucial that countries in the region work together to provide protection to those affected by the conflict.
UNHCR has repeatedly expressed alarm at the impact on civilians of the 42 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 country’s 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.