UNHCR signs agreement with Venezuelan "Banco del Pueblo Soberano"

Briefing Notes, 18 January 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 January 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has signed an agreement with the Venezuelan "Banco del Pueblo Soberano" one of the largest micro-finance institutions of the Venezuelan government to grant micro-credits to Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in the Venezuelan border states of Zulia, Táchira and Apure. The agreement, which totals over US $700,000, will benefit some 10,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers as well as some 200,000 unregistered Colombians in need of international protection.

The low-interest loans are designed to help people set up self-employment projects in agriculture, fishing, farming, small-scale manufacturing and commerce. 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.

An estimated 200,000 Colombians have fled the conflict in their country and sought safety in Venezuela. Most of them lack identity documents and this hampers their access to services, as well as to the labour market, property and traditional sources of credit.

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Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia: Assisting the Internally Displaced

Colombia is the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere. More than two million people have been internally displaced during the conflict, including 200,000 persons in 2002 alone. Tens of thousands of other Colombians have sought refuge abroad.

UNHCR provides legal assistance to these internally displaced persons (IDPs), supports their associations and on the national level has helped to strengthen government programmes and relevant legislation. Specialised agency programmes include education, psychological and social rehabilitation projects for children and their families and assistance to women who head households.

Colombia: Assisting the Internally Displaced

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

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