Colombia: UN relief chief meets with minority groups affected by floods, violence

25 February 2009
Afro-Colombians in the town of Boyoya, having fled their homes in Chocó province

Meeting with members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities impacted by floods, displacement and violence in Colombia, the top United Nations relief official today called for stepped up assistance for these minority groups.

On the second day of this three-day visit to Colombia, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes travelled to the north-west Chocó region.

In the Afro-Colombian community of Bebedó, he heard first-hand from community leaders and families, whose homes were destroyed by severe flooding last year, of their needs given that their town, situated on the San Juan River, is prone to flooding and suffers from high levels of poverty.

“I was impressed by the resilience of the community,” Mr. Holmes said yesterday.

Although the people of the town are receiving assistance from the Government as well as UN and partner agencies, “it is clear they are doing everything they can to try to help themselves and restore their livelihoods,” he added.

Also in the town, the official met with representatives of the Wounaan indigenous tribe who told him how they had been uprooted in 2005 by violence related to narco-trafficking and conflict.

The tribe also told Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, that they continue to face critical challenges in pursuing their traditional way of life and cannot leave their village due to the presence of armed groups and landmines. Further, they lack education, health care facilities and livelihood opportunities.

Mr. Holmes also visited with 22 indigenous people from the Katio tribe from Vira Vira, who have been displaced after the murder of one of their members by an illegal armed group three weeks ago. They told the Coordinator that they wish to return to their community as soon as possible, but are held back by fear of further violence.

“This visit illustrated in vivid fashion the problems of those minority communities and the need for a determined response by the Government and the international community, working together, to find durable solutions,” he stressed.

Today, he will wrap up his visit to Colombia, returning to Bogotá to meet with President Alvaro Uribe.

 

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