Latin American bishops declare solidarity with Colombian refugees
SAN RAFAEL, Ecuador (UNHCR) - The valley of San Rafael, with its mild climate, hot springs and green rolling hills, is a favourite weekend retreat for the citizens of Quito, Ecuador's bustling capital. This quiet corner of Ecuador, surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes, provided a peaceful background to a meeting that brought together 30 bishops and representatives of Catholic organisations from six Latin American countries to discuss a burning issue: how to respond more effectively to the growing humanitarian impact of the Colombian conflict on the region's countries.
The meeting, held from March 6-8, was organised by the Latin American Bishops' Council (CELAM), the Ecuadorian Bishops' Conference and the UN refugee agency. Bishops from border areas from Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, together with the director of CARITAS Brazil, analysed the conflict in Colombia from the point of view of its victims and reaffirmed existing commitments and joint programmes of action with UNHCR. The Catholic Church and UNHCR have been working closely together to protect and assist refugees, asylum seekers and other persons of concern in the region over the last 25 years.
At the end of the meeting, the bishops issued a moving message to the refugees, "our brothers and sisters, the victims of the Colombian conflict." The message expresses the Catholic Church's "fraternal and evangelical solidarity" with "all those who were forced out of their native land by the violence, leaving behind everything they had built over their entire lives."
The bishops also thanked the governments of the region, the national and international organisations and the local communities for welcoming and assisting the refugees.
UNHCR's Regional Representative, Virginia Trimarco, emphasised the commonality between the work of the refugee agency and that of the Church. "It is our mutual concern for the victims of violence that brings us together in the search for solutions," she said.