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Ecuador: Colombians arrive fleeing violence

Briefing notes

Ecuador: Colombians arrive fleeing violence

27 February 2007

On Saturday, more than 300 people fleeing violence in southern Colombia crossed the San Juan River and arrived in the small northern Ecuadorian border town of Chical. The group, from the Colombian village of Tallambi, lived on the opposite bank of the river. A large number of Awá indigenous people are among the newcomers.

UNHCR deployed a team of humanitarian workers to Chical on Sunday and is distributing emergency items and food rations in coordination with partner organizations. So far, we have registered 315 people, more than half of them children. Many in the group are still very visibly shocked and scared. They say they fled after an irregular armed group killed the local schoolteacher and threatened other people in Tallambi. Local authorities on the Colombian side of the border report fighting in the area.

The newcomers have been staying with local families in Chical, but the housing capacity of this small community is fast reaching its limit. UNHCR and the local authorities are getting a shelter ready in case more people cross the border in the coming days. According to the new arrivals, many more could be on the way.

The Awá live in their own territory, which spans across Ecuador and Colombia. They have suffered greatly from the increase in violence in the southern Colombian region of Nariño in the past few years. In general, ethnic minorities in Colombia have been disproportionately affected by the conflict.

Last month, a group of some 40 Afro-Colombians arrived in northern Ecuador, also from Nariño. They have asked to remain in Ecuador as they feel it's unsafe to return. UNHCR is coordinating efforts with the national refugee office for a speedy answer to their asylum request.

An estimated 250,000 Colombians are in Ecuador after fleeing the internal armed conflict in Colombia, which has displaced more than 3 million people within the country's borders. There are also an estimated 200,000 Colombians in need of protection in Venezuela.