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Colombia: UN refugee agency welcomes draft law aimed at helping displaced people

Colombia: UN refugee agency welcomes draft law aimed at helping displaced people

The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed the introduction of a draft law to aid displaced people in Colombia, the country which has the largest population of agency concern with 3 million people driven from their homes by more than 40 years of fighting between the Government, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries.

“The initiative sends a strong message of national solidarity and commitment to the millions of Colombians forcibly displaced as a result of the internal armed conflict,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

The draft introduced in the Colombian Parliament would declare 2007 the Year for the Rights of Displaced People in Colombia and stresses the importance of restitution and reparations for long-term solutions as well as seeking concrete plans for housing, education and the workplace.

If adopted, the law would come into effect 10 years after Colombia adopted pioneering legislation to protect the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), addressing the problems that in practice still deprive many IDPs of their rights.

For many of Colombia’s 3 million IDPs, more than 5 percent of the total population and one of the largest single IDP populations anywhere in the world, life remains precarious. According to several official studies, about half of them do not have access to the health system and a large number encounters similar problems in housing, education and the workplace. Others find that their rights to a life free of persecution and further forced displacement do not materialize, Mr. Redmond noted.

The majority lost lands and properties and few manage to regain the standards of living they once enjoyed before displacement. The law would mark the start of a year-long campaign to raise awareness of the rights of IDPs, who are often stigmatized within their own country and whose plight is largely unknown to the rest of the world.

The initiative comes in the same week as another draft law to end violence against women, which UNHCR also welcomed, noting that women and girls make up some 60 per cent of the IDP population and are especially vulnerable to certain forms of violence.

The agency has repeatedly called international attention to the desperate plight of Colombians caught up in fighting or forced to flee, warning that some indigenous communities displaced from land to which they are tied by their culture and traditions are in danger of disappearing altogether.