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UN-backed small loans help refugees in Ecuador break out of poverty

UN-backed small loans help refugees in Ecuador break out of poverty

A UNHCR staff member (right) listens to the story of a commercial sex worker in Esmeraldas, Ecuador
A United Nations-supported microcredit project is helping vulnerable refugees in Ecuador, especially women who have turned to sex work to support themselves and their families, break out of poverty.

Ecuador is home to the largest number of refugees in Latin America, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Of the more than 53,000 recognized refugees, 73 per cent are women and children.

Over the past year, UNHCR has been working with partner organizations to set up programmes and provide financial services to help needy Colombian refugees and their hosts in Ecuador, including supporting income-generating projects.

Such projects “benefit Colombian and Ecuadorean women, especially those who are often subject to discrimination, in order to give them a different alternative,” said Luis Varese, the UNHCR deputy representative in Ecuador.

Among the most vulnerable are refugee women who turn to sex work, either because they have limited job opportunities or need a second income to support their families.

Studies done by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Ecuadorean health ministry have found that nearly half of the Colombian refugee women who are sex workers in Ecuador’s northern border area were not in the trade back in their homeland.

UNHCR supported organizations such as 21 de Septiembre, a group that promotes the human rights of sex workers, to provide financial services to sex workers and their families in Esmeraldas, a border town on the Pacific coast.

Last year 19 women each received an average credit of $300, and so far there has been no delinquency in the loans.