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Colombia/Ecuador: Upsurge in fighting along border, many hundreds more displaced

Briefing notes

Colombia/Ecuador: Upsurge in fighting along border, many hundreds more displaced

15 November 2005

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in two places along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. The latest displacement is the result of an upsurge in fighting between armed groups in the departments of Putumayo and Nariño in southern Colombia since last month. Since October 19, more than 2,000 men, women and children have been displaced by the conflict within Colombia, and 850 of them have so far crossed the border into Ecuador.

This includes 600 over the weekend who arrived in Ecuador from the Colombian department of Nariño. It was the single largest influx so far this year. The new arrivals in Ecuador said hundreds more could be following. The 600 weekend arrivals are now in the Ecuadorian town of San Lorenzo, where they are getting help from UNHCR, other organisations and local authorities. Some of them were badly wounded and are receiving medical assistance. One asylum seeker died of wounds. The municipality has made available four local buildings for shelter. UNHCR and the Red Cross have started distributing WFP [World Food Programme] food rations for each family.

UNHCR in Ecuador has deployed a team to San Lorenzo from our office in Ibarra.

Further east, in the Ecuadorian town of Lago Agrio, there has been a marked increase in the number of Colombians from Putumayo Department registering for asylum in the past three weeks. Since Oct. 19, UNHCR in Lago Agrio reports nearly 150 Colombians have registered as asylum seekers, twice the usual monthly average. About 100 asylum seekers are staying at a UNHCR shelter.

The new arrivals in Lago Agrio - members of the Kechwa indigenous group - told UNHCR that more asylum seekers were on their way to Ecuador. Most of them come from the border town of San Marcelino in Putumayo, located on the San Miguel River which divides the two countries. There are reports of kidnappings and forced recruitment of minors in the area.

Over the past month, the conflict in Putumayo has included attacks on the towns of Teteyé and Puerto Colón near the border. Several civilians have been killed. There is also increasing tension in towns along the Putumayo River, as well as in the municipalities of Puerto Asís and Valle del Guamuez.

Many Colombians who flee to Ecuador do not register with UNHCR, and often cross back to their homeland when they feel it is again safe to do so. We estimate that the total Colombian population of concern in Ecuador could be as high as 250,000.