An innovative project helps 26,000 refugees in northern Ecuador

Briefing Notes, 6 April 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 April 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

An innovative registration initiative has resulted in 26,000 Colombian refugees receiving identity documents in an isolated region of northern Ecuador. For 12 months mobile teams comprising officials from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNHCR staff traversed difficult terrain in northern Ecuador to reach the refugees. Registration is a vital step in the process towards being formally recognized as a refugee. The project is considered a model for Latin America, where the majority of refugees often have to go to towns and cities to be registered.

Known as the Enhanced Registration Project, this joint initiative with the Ecuadorian government was established in an attempt to reach Colombian refugees who fled to northern Ecuador. By using mobile registration teams, the waiting period for a government decision on asylum claims was reduced from several months to just one day. Recognized refugees received an official government document certifying their status as refugees. The cases requiring further analysis received a provisional document confirming their status as an asylum seeker. Without such documentation refugees and asylum seekers lack essential legal protection and access to assistance.

Many refugees have been living in this remote border location for years and were unable to access asylum procedures in urban areas either because of lack of resources and information or because of fear. Without legal status a majority of these refugees became vulnerable and marginalized. Documentation makes a real difference in the lives of these refugees who are now able to move freely in Ecuador and can access health centres, schools and other services. But, this is just a first step and additional efforts are needed to help these refugees to integrate into isolated host communities. The project aimed to reach the most vulnerable, including children, women and elderly.

UNHCR supported the Ecuadorian government in this complex protection and logistical effort that cost over $2 million. As a result of this initiative, the Ecuadorian government and UNHCR have a more accurate picture of the number of Colombian refugees living in northern Ecuador and the needs. This project doubled the number of registered refugees in Ecuador now totaling more than 45,000, 98 percent of them are Colombian. However, UNHCR estimates there could be another 100,000 people in Ecuador who may be in need of international protection.