Refugees open up to Goodwill Ambassador Laport in Ecuador

News Stories, 26 November 2010

© UNHCR/C.Podesta
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Osvaldo Laport surrounded by children in Tambillo, Ecuador.

QUITO, Ecuador, November 26 (UNHCR) Uruguayan actor Osvaldo Laport, after meeting Colombian refugees in urban and rural areas of Ecuador, has said he was struck by how traumatized many of the forcibly displaced people remained and impressed by the generosity and warm heartedness of the Ecuadorean people to those in need.

The Argentina-based television soap star, making his second visit abroad as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, met urban refugees in the capital Quito as well as forcibly displaced Colombians living in remote northern areas of northern Ecuador. The small republic hosts the largest refugee population in Latin America. There are more than 50,000 registered refugees in Ecuador almost all of them from neighbouring Colombia.

In Quito, Laport met a Colombian family preparing to be resettled to Canada. The wife had allegedly been sexually abused before fleeing from Colombia. "In another country, further away from Colombia, we would feel safer and live with less fear," she told him.

Laport also visited UNHCR operations and met refugees in the northern border provinces of Esmeraldas, Carchi and Imbabura, "I was ready to hear difficult stories, but not to confront this terrible fear that the refugees have of recalling the past and, even worse, talking about it," he said when asked about the trip. He was also impressed by, and thankful for, the solidarity shown by the Ecuadorean government and people to refugees.

In the coastal province of Esmeraldas, Laport travelled by boat to reach the Afro-Ecuadorean community of Tambillo, where the inhabitants have opened their doors to Colombian refugees despite their own harsh living conditions. One Colombian woman introduced him to an Ecuadorean couple and said: "They have been like second parents to me. When I came here in nothing but the clothes I was wearing, they made sure I got by."

In the border region of Esmeraldas, there are 22 such communities hosting people in need of protection. Many of these can only be reached by boat and have very limited basic services, including health care and education.

UNHCR has had an office in Esmeraldas since 2008 to help those crossing the border to escape conflict or persecution in Colombia. In the first eight months of this year, an average of 290 people a month asked for asylum. "The concept of protection by presence becomes very real here, and absolutely necessary," Laport noted.

But while Laport was impressed by host communities in the countryside, he also heard about growing tension and discrimination in urban areas. One family in the town of Ibarra in Imbabura province told him they found it difficult to find jobs and had problems with some of their neighbours. "They want us out of here. They tell us to go back to the hell where we come from," claimed one family member.

In Ibarra, Laport also met with a group of female refugees who meet regularly to share their experiences and who support other women refugees in need. One member of this group said she had fled to Ecuador with her husband eight years ago, but left her four children behind in Colombia. She said she can't go back to see her children "because it could put their lives in danger."

Last year, Laport visited UNHCR operations in eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He made an award-winning documentary of that trip and was accompanied by a camera crew during his mission to Ecuador.

By Carolina Podestá in Quito, Ecuador

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors

Learn about our loyal ambassadors.

Osvaldo Laport

Osvaldo Laport

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

Ecuador: Guterres visits EcuadorPlay video

Ecuador: Guterres visits Ecuador

UNHCR chief António Guterres visits Ecuador ahead of World Refugee Day and praises the country for hosting refugees.
Angelina Jolie in EcuadorPlay video

Angelina Jolie in Ecuador

Angelina Jolie meets Colombian refugees in Ecuador during her first field visit as Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
Ecuador: Left BehindPlay video

Ecuador: Left Behind

People continue to flee to Ecuador to escape violence in neighbouring Colombia. Some have to make tough choices while seeking safety.