UNHCR welcomes South America/Mercosur declaration

Briefing Notes, 17 November 2000

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 November 2000, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes a recent declaration by members and associates of South America's trading bloc MERCOSUR (Mercado del Cono Sur) in which they commit themselves to the strengthening of refugee protection in the entire region. The signatories adopted a broad definition of refugees, which also comprises victims of human rights violations and generalised violence, as opposed to a more narrow definition which recognises refugees on an individal basis. The declaration, which also refers to the need to harmonize Latin America's asylum laws and procedures, is an important milestone toward establishing a generous and strong refugee protection regime in the southern cone of the South American continent. It is particularly important, as it comes at a time when the internal conflict in Colombia is driving more and more people from their homes and also increasingly into neighbouring Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. The MERCOSUR declaration, issued in Rio de Janeiro on November 10th and signed by MERCOSUR full members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as its associate members Chile and Bolivia, does not directly cover countries affected by the crisis in Colombia. Nonetheless UNHCR hopes its spirit will eventually also influence the currently restrictive asylum policies of Venezuela toward Colombian refugees.