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UN refugee chief wraps up visit to Colombia, one of his agency’s major concerns

UN refugee chief wraps up visit to Colombia, one of his agency’s major concerns

UNHCR chief António Guterres
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres today wraps up a four-day visit to Colombia, which has one of the largest populations of concern to his agency with some 3 million people uprooted by more than 40 years of fighting between the Government, leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and criminal gangs.

Mr. Guterres, who has already met with President Álvaro Uribe and yesterday visited displaced Afro-Colombians in Chocó in the north-west of the country, was today chairing a conference on displacement in Bogota, the capital, bringing together high-ranking government officials, civil society and displaced people.

The meeting has two main objectives: to draw attention to the humanitarian consequences of displacement and encourage the full implementation of the law so that all displaced people have equal access to their rights, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Colombia has some of the most advanced legislation in the world for internally displaced people, thanks to a national law passed 10 years ago. It covers the rights to protection by the State, documentation and access to services such as health, education and housing,” he said. “However, practical delivery of the law remains patchy in some areas and not all IDPs [internally displaced persons] have equal access to their rights.”

In his meeting with President Uribe, Mr. Guterres pledged continuing UNHCR support for Government efforts on behalf of the displaced, stressing the importance of applying the law in a concrete way and carrying it out equally for everyone.

In his visit to Chocó, where most of the Afro-Colombian community has been displaced due to the volatile security situation and many are still frightened they may have to flee again, he told them security and peace were their first rights, without which no other rights could be adequately enforced.

Throughout his visit to a country where IDPs represent some 8 per cent of the total population of over 40 million, he stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of displacement, adding that, while the international community is there to help, the problems can only be solved by the Colombian people and their Government.

Today’s conference coincides with the release of a UNHCR study that evaluates changes and displacement trends and in the Government’s response in Colombia over the past three years.

Before arriving here, Mr. Guterres visited Ecuador, which hosts some 250,000 Colombians, and called for more international support for the refugees there.