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Colombia: UNHCR team report

Briefing notes

Colombia: UNHCR team report

11 January 2000

A two-man UNHCR team has completed a mission to Panama to assess the needs of 355 Colombians who fled fighting in the Colombian coastal town of Juradó in mid-December. The Colombians are currently receiving temporary assistance and protection in the Panamanian Pacific coastal village of Jacque.

Juradó, a municipality of some 5,000 people in north-western Colombia near the Panamanian border, was attacked by hundreds of guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on December 12. In the wake of the guerrilla attack, the residents of Juradó escaped by boat along the Pacific Coast to Jacque, population 600.

The UNHCR team was in Panama from January 2-7. They reported that the 355 Colombians - about 100 families - are staying with townspeople in Jacque. They are receiving help from Panamanian authorities, the National Refugee Office (ONPAR) and the Catholic Church, with funding from UNHCR.

The UNHCR team, from our offices in Caracas, Venezuela, and Bogota, Colombia, said the Colombians are generally in good shape and had been well-received by Panamanian authorities. ONPAR officials accompanied the mission to Jacque. The team said most of the Colombians expressed a desire to return home once the security situation is restored in Juradó.

The deterioration of the Colombian conflict in the past few years has led to the internal displacement of at least 800,000 people since 1996, according to most estimates. In the first six months of 1999, an estimated 123,000 were displaced. UNHCR opened an office in Bogota in June 1998 and in November established its first field presence with the opening of a field office in Barrancabermeja. Two more UNHCR field offices are to be opened by the end of this year under UNHCR's $2 million annual programme aimed at strengthening Colombia's ability to deal with its huge internally displaced population.