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New UN-backed drive grants micro-credit to Colombian refugees

New UN-backed drive grants micro-credit to Colombian refugees

In another move to foster livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of Colombians uprooted by decades of conflict, the United Nations refugee agency has signed an agreement with a Venezuelan bank to grant over $700,000 in micro-credit.

“The low-interest loans are designed to help people set up self-employment projects in agriculture, fishing, farming, small-scale manufacturing and commerce,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler told a news briefing in Geneva today.

The agreement with the Banco del Pueblo Soberano, one of the largest micro-finance institutions of the Venezuelan Government, will benefit some 10,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers as well as some 200,000 unregistered Colombians in need of international protection in the Venezuelan border states of Zulia, Táchira and Apure.

Beneficiaries will also receive basic training in business management, accounting and other necessary skills to run small businesses. Besides helping refugees and others in need of protection, the projects will have a positive impact in the economic development of border areas.

Most of those who have fled lack identity documents, hampering their access to services, the labour market, property and traditional sources of credit.

Earlier this month, UNHCR awarded cash grants to 16 small business ventures in Ecuador, Colombia’s southern neighbour, where tens of thousands of people have also fled to escape the conflict between the Government, rebels and paramilitary groups in their own country.

There are some 45,000 registered Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and tens of thousands of others who have never contacted UNHCR or the authorities to seek asylum.

Overall, Colombia has one of the largest populations of concern to UNHCR with some 3 million people displaced by the fighting, both internally and abroad.