UN refugee chief urges more international aid for Colombians who have fled to Ecuador
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres has called for more international cooperation to help hundreds of thousands of Colombian refugees in Ecuador who have fled more than 40 years of fighting between the Colombian Government, leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and criminal gangs.
Mr. Guterres, on a week-long visit to Ecuador and Colombia, the country with the largest population of concern to UNHCR with some 3 million people uprooted by the conflict, met yesterday with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in the capital, Quito, and was today visiting a refugee shelter and border communities in the north to discuss the challenges they face.
Thanking the Ecuadorean people for their exceptional generosity, he said the international community had an obligation to help Ecuador, which is home to the largest refugee population in the region, fulfil its international responsibilities.
UNHCR and the Government estimate that up to 250,000 Colombians have fled to Ecuador and the numbers keep growing, with an average of 700 people a month asking for asylum. Many others who cross the border do not register but are still able to enjoy Ecuador’s hospitality and protection.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it would be able to continue feeding almost 8,000 Colombian nationals in Ecuador thanks to a nearly $400,000 contribution from the Government of Spain. “It will greatly help the Colombian refugees, especially the most vulnerable, get on with their lives until the situation at home becomes more stable,” WFP Representative in Ecuador Helmut Rauch said.
Later yesterday, Mr. Guterres travelled to Lago Agrio near the northern border with Colombia, one of the poorest and least developed regions in Ecuador. Many refugees live there among local communities that often lack basic infrastructure and access to services. Mr. Guterres visited several UNHCR projects that benefit both refugees and the local population, including a health centre and a primary school.
He stayed overnight at the border and was leaving tonight for Colombia, where he is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with high-ranking government officials tomorrow.
Later in the week, he will visit Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the west of Colombia. Both have suffered greatly as a result of the armed conflict there.
During a conference in Bogota on Friday, Mr. Guterres will present the main findings of a UNHCR study of the changes in displacement trends and the Government’s response to the crisis in the past three years. He will also launch the 2007 ‘Year for the Rights of Displaced People Campaign’ to highlight and lobby for the rights of the displaced.
According to the Government, some 170,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced last year alone. The authorities have significantly stepped up their aid efforts but the displaced are not always able to enjoy their rights to material help, long-term solutions and above all to a life free of violence and persecution. The 2007 campaign aims to encourage the search for practical solutions.