• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Small loans for vulnerable groups in Ecuador

News Stories, 11 April 2011

© UNHCR/A.Lasso
A commercial sex worker in Esmeraldas tells her story to a UNHCR staff member.

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador, April 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is supporting a micro-credit project in Ecuador to help vulnerable refugees break out of poverty and exploitation.

Over the last year, UNHCR has been working with several organizations to set up self-reliance programmes for needy Colombian refugees and their hosts in Ecuador, which is home to the largest number of refugees in Latin America. Of the 53,342 recognized refugees, 73 per cent are women and children.

Luis Varese, the UNHCR deputy representative in Ecuador, said the refugee agency "supports income-generating projects that benefit Colombian and Ecuadorean women, especially those who are often subject to discrimination, in order to give them a different alternative."

Sex workers are among those vulnerable groups. According to studies done by several UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Ecuadorean Ministry of Health, nearly half of the Colombian refugee women who are sex workers in Ecuador's northern border were not in the trade back in their homeland.

Some women do not have other options because job opportunities are limited or because they do not meet the requirements. Others need a second job to support their families.

Mariana* was a salesperson in Colombia when her husband was killed by members of an irregular armed group. She received death threats and decided to flee to neighbouring Ecuador, leaving her three children with their grandmother.

She arrived in Ecuador in 2007, in the northern town of Ibarra near the border. Unable to find work without an Ecuadorean identity document, she decided to become a commercial sex worker, a legal profession in the country.

"It was very difficult for me to take that decision; it was very hard in the beginning," she said. "I also suffered harassment in Ecuador and many people thought I was a criminal."

Several years later, Mariana moved to Esmeraldas, a border town on the Pacific coast, where she received refugee status. But it was still a struggle to get services, such as opening a bank account. "When I told the bank representative that I am a refugee and a sex worker, my application was denied," she said.

Recognizing the problem, UNHCR worked with 21 de Septiembre, an association to promote the human rights of sex workers. Its representative, Pilar Pallares, saw the need to create a credit institution when she saw friends who could not work any more because of their age and because they became sick with sexually transmitted infections.

With legal advice and funds from UNHCR, the association set up an organization to provide financial services to sex workers and their families in Esmeraldas' refugee and host communities.

Last year, 19 women each received an average credit of US$300. Mariana is one of them, and is using her loan to start a small business selling silver jewellery. "I want my sons to come, I also want to have some extra money for any health emergency," she said.

So far, there has been no delinquency in the loans. "It is our goal to strengthen the institution," said Pallares. "During 2011, we would like to offer loans to more partners. We motivate them to save some money, and we talk with them about the importance of self-esteem. With newcomers, we also discuss the refugee process."

The association is also engaged in education initiatives that promote sexual and reproductive rights for sex workers, which are also targeted at the owners of night clubs.

Asked what the loan meant to her, Mariana said, "I hope in the near future to leave this life behind."

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Andrea Durango in Esmeraldas, Ecuador

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Assistance

From life-saving aid to help with shelter, health, water, education and more.

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

Nigeria Refugee Crisis - A Journey of SurvivalPlay video

Nigeria Refugee Crisis - A Journey of Survival

Today, United Nations Agencies and non-governmental organizations are launching the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for Nigerian refugees. This appeal is urgently seeking USD 174.4 million to protect and assist some 192,000 people who have fled brutal attacks by insurgents in north-eastern Nigeria. The plan also foresees to respond to any additional population movements to the neighbouring countries. The appeal is seeking funds to provide life-saving assistance to at least 74,000 Nigerians who have found refuge in northern Cameroon, to 18,000 in south-west Chad and to some 100,000 people - a mix of Nigerian refugees and returning Niger nationals - in Niger.
Lebanon: A Tough Winter AheadPlay video

Lebanon: A Tough Winter Ahead

Syrian refugees are bracing for long, cold months ahead. UNHCR and its partners estimate that some 132,000 refugee households (660,000 people) in Lebanon are in need of some kind of assistance during the winter to keep them warm and dry.
Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern AleppoPlay video

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern Aleppo

An agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition allows UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged city of Aleppo.