Ecuador: UNHCR establishes new presence for Colombians
UNHCR has now established a field presence in Ecuador's northern Sucumbíos Province, where an estimated 4,000 people fleeing fighting in southern Colombia have arrived over the past month. UNHCR staff in Sucumbíos report that some 300 people from Colombia's strife-torn Putumayo Department arrived in Ecuador over the weekend. There are currently two UNHCR staff stationed in Sucumbíos and a third is expected in November. They are working with local and national authorities to provide assistance to the Colombians, the vast majority of whom are believed to be transiting through Ecuador on their way back to safer areas inside Colombia - both to the east and west of Putumayo.
The deterioration of the Colombian conflict in the past few years has led to the internal displacement of at least 1.1 million people. Nearly 600,000 Colombians are estimated to have been uprooted in the past two years alone, a worrisome trend that is continuing in places like Putumayo, where profits from the drug trade are fuelling a bloody conflict involving leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary forces and government troops.
Most of the displaced have remained in Colombia, although there have been relatively small numbers of people fleeing to neighbouring countries to seek asylum. UNHCR opened an office in Bogota, Colombia, in June 1998 and also has three field offices in Colombia which are close to the borders with Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. The first of the three field offices opened in November 1999 in the north-eastern city of Barrancabermeja, an oil port on the Magdalena River near Venezuela. The second opened earlier this year in Apartadó, in the northern region of Urabá near the border with Panama. The last office was officially opened in mid-August in Puerto Asís in the southern Putumayo region on the border with Ecuador.