Mobile registration project for Colombian refugees in Ecuador

Briefing Notes, 27 March 2009

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 27 March 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A mobile team of 50 government workers supported by UNHCR this week began work on registering and providing refugee documents to some 50,000 Colombian refugees who have fled insecurity in their homeland and have settled in northern Ecuador. The so-called Enhanced Registration project is unprecedented in Latin America. It began on Monday in the small community of Muisne, in the province of Esmeraldas, and will continue for at least a year and cover every province along the northern Ecuadorian border.

UNHCR is supporting the Ecuadorian government in this complicated logistical effort that will cost some $2 million 80 percent of it from UNHCR. The remainder is to be provided by the government. At the moment, we still face a shortfall of $800,000 which we will have to raise with the cooperation of donor countries.

The importance of the Enhanced Registration project is twofold: it shortens the waiting period for a government decision on asylum claims from several months to just one day; and it takes the asylum process to the field, where many refugees have been living for years and were unable to access asylum systems in urban areas because they didn't have the resources or because they feared being detained.

In the first three days of the Enhanced Registration project, more than 200 people received refugee visas. As the mobile teams travel north in the Esmeraldas province, the numbers are expected to grow as the presence of Colombians is more numerous near the border.

Those carrying out the project were recently hired and trained by the Ecuadorian government and UNHCR. In total, the project required the purchase of more than 40 computers, electric generators, nine vehicles, visibility materials and a implementation of a communications campaign, all procured by UNHCR.

Currently there are 22,000 registered refugees in Ecuador, but the government and UNHCR estimate that the total number of persons in need of international protection could be close to 135,000.

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Registration

The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

Indigenous people in Colombia

There are about a million indigenous people in Colombia. They belong to 80 different groups and make up one of the world's most diverse indigenous heritages. But the internal armed conflict is taking its toll on them.

Like many Colombians, indigenous people often have no choice but to flee their lands to escape violence. Forced displacement is especially tragic for them because they have extremely strong links to their ancestral lands. Often their economic, social and cultural survival depends on keeping these links alive.

According to Colombia's national indigenous association ONIC, 18 of the smaller groups are at risk of disappearing. UNHCR is working with them to support their struggle to stay on their territories or to rebuild their lives when they are forced to flee.

UNHCR also assists indigenous refugees in neighbouring countries like Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. UNHCR is developing a regional strategy to better address the specific needs of indigenous people during exile.

Indigenous people in Colombia

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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