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Venezuela: new Colombian arrivals; UNHCR welcomes temporary protection status for Wayúu

Briefing Notes, 9 July 2004

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 July 2004, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A UNHCR team together with the Jesuit Refugee Service is currently in Venezuela's border state of Apure evaluating the humanitarian and protection needs of some 200 Colombians who fled to Venezuela earlier this week. The group reportedly fled from Puerto Lleras, in Colombia's Arauca department, across the border into the Alto Apure region following fighting between illegal armed groups in Colombia. They are sheltering in an old palm-oil processing plant. Some of the group wish to seek refugee status in Venezuela while others would like to return to Colombia once the security situation improves. UNHCR is contacting the military, government and immigration authorities to inform them of the influx and to coordinate a response. The numbers of Colombian asylum seekers in Apure have been rising steadily this year, up from 299 in January to 1,117 at the end of May. Around 40 percent of all the Colombian asylum seekers in Venezuela are staying in Apure state, one of three Venezuelan states bordering Colombia.

In a separate development, last Friday, the Venezuelan National Refugee Commission granted temporary protection status to 292 indigenous Wayúu who fled to Venezuela in May following armed conflict in their community of Bahia Portete, La Guajira, in Colombia. This is the first time that the Venezuelan government has granted this type of protection status and UNHCR views this favourably. The temporary protection is valid for 90 days and renewable according to the security and protection needs of the group. This status means they can remain in Venezuela and get government assistance through the National Civil Protection Office. When the indigenous people arrived in Venezuela in May, UNHCR coordinated the delivery of humanitarian assistance with the authorities and NGOs.

This year, an increasing number of indigenous people have been affected by the Colombian conflict. In addition to the hundreds of Wayúu forced to flee into Venezuela, other indigenous groups in the border zone such as the Yukpa and Barí have found themselves hosting Colombian farmers who also fled fighting.

This May, UNHCR initiated an awareness campaign targeting local indigenous groups residing in the border areas of Zulia state. Radio programmes in the native languages of the Wayúu, Yukpa and Barí populations residing along the border provide information on the rights and obligations of refugees in Venezuela and the asylum application process.

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2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Nansen Refugee Award: Butterflies with New Wings

In a violence-ridden corner of Colombia, a group of courageous women are putting their lives at risk helping survivors of displacement and sexual violence. In a country where 5.7 million people have been uprooted by conflict, they live in one of the most dangerous cities - Buenaventura. Colombia's main port has one of the highest rates of violence and displacement, due to escalating rivalries between armed groups. To show their power or to exact revenge, the groups often violate and abuse the most vulnerable - women and children.

But in Buenaventura, the women who make up "Butterflies" are standing up and helping the survivors. They provide one-on-one support for victims of abuse and reach into different communities to educate and empower women and put pressure on the authorities to uphold women's rights.

Many of Butterflies' members have been forcibly displaced during the past 50 years of conflict, or have lost relatives and friends. Many are also survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It is this shared experience that pushes them to continue their work in spite of the risks.

On foot or by bus, Gloria Amparello , Maritza Asprilla Cruz and Mery Medina - three of the Butterflies coordinators - visit the most dangerous neighbourhoods and help women access medical and psychological care or help them report crimes. Through workshops, they teach women about their rights and how to earn a living. So far, Butterflies volunteers have helped more than 1,000 women and their families.

Butterflies has become a driving force in raising awareness about the high levels of violence against women. Despite attracting the attention of armed groups, they organize protests against abuse of women in the streets of their dilapidated city, determined to knock down walls of fear and silence.

Nansen Refugee Award: Butterflies with New Wings

Struggling with the threat of extinction

Among Colombia's many indigenous groups threatened with extinction, few are in a riskier situation than the Tule. There are only about 1,200 of them left in three locations in the neighbouring departments of Choco and Antiquoia in north-western Colombia.

One group of 500 live in Choco's Unguia municipality, a strategically important area on the border with Panama that is rich in timber, minerals and other natural resources. Unfortunately, these riches have attracted the attention of criminal and illegal armed groups over the past decade.

Many tribe members have sought shelter in Panama or elsewhere in Choco. But a determined core decided to stay, fearing that the tribe would never survive if they left their ancestral lands and gave up their traditional way of life.

UNHCR has long understood and sympathized with such concerns, and the refugee agency has helped draw up a strategy to prevent displacement, or at least ensure that the Tule never have to leave their territory permanently.

Struggling with the threat of extinction

Colombia: Indigenous People Under ThreatPlay video

Colombia: Indigenous People Under Threat

Violence in parts of Colombia is threatening the existence of the country's indigenous people. This is the tale of one such group, the Tule.
Colombia: Giving women strengthPlay video

Colombia: Giving women strength

In the volatile southern Colombian region of Putumayo, forced displacement remains a real and daily threat. Indigenous women are especially vulnerable. A project by UNHCR focuses on helping women to adapt and learn about their rights while they are displaced.
Surviving in the City: Bogota, ColombiaPlay video

Surviving in the City: Bogota, Colombia

Conflict has forced more than 3 million Colombians to flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere in the country. The majority have migrated to cities seeking anonymity, safety and a way to make a living. But many find urban life traumatizing.