Lubbers voices concern for displaced Colombians as UNHCR releases documentary
MILAN, Italy, November 13 (UNHCR) - UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers today expressed concern over Colombia's worsening humanitarian situation at the premiere of a documentary about the human costs of the country's protracted conflict. He also called for more aid and funds to help its victims.
The premiere of the documentary, "Desplazados", was held Wednesday in Milan's Teatro Armani. It was hosted by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Giorgio Armani, and attended by Lubbers and Italy's Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mario Baccini.
The 20-minute video describes the dramatic situation of the people who have been forced to flee as a result of the long-standing conflict in Colombia. It was produced by UNHCR's Rome Office and filmed in Colombia and Ecuador this summer. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie took part in the filming when she was in Ecuador in June visiting communities hosting Colombian refugees. She narrated the English version of the documentary, which will be released on November 20.
The screening of "Desplazados" will build up to the launch of the UN refugee agency's next fund-raising campaign in Italy on behalf of displaced Colombians. The campaign, which also includes television and newspaper ads, will be launched in Italy at the beginning of December.
The protracted crisis in Colombia has forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes this year alone. In all, some 2 million people have been displaced over the decades of conflict. Tens of thousands more have been forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, as well as in North America and Europe. In the first six months of this year, some 900 to 1,000 people became internally displaced each day in Colombia.
At the Milan screening, High Commissioner Lubbers, who is due to visit Colombia at the end of November to see first-hand the situation for the displaced, said, "While the responsibility for assisting and protecting internally displaced people lies first and foremost with the Colombian government, the dramatic worsening of the humanitarian situation in Colombia requires a greater effort on the part of the humanitarian agencies, the whole of the international community and private donors."
He stressed, "Unfortunately, the human impact of this conflict is too often overlooked. We at UNHCR are trying to do more to raise the visibility of the displaced people as well as to increase our field presence to provide protection to those affected, but for this we need funds."
In 2002, UNHCR requested $8.3 million to finance its operations in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, but it has so far received only $5.5 million from governments and private donors. For 2003, the refugee agency will need over $10 million - $5.6 million for activities in Colombia, $2.9 million for Venezuela, $1.6 million for Ecuador and almost half a million dollars for Panama.
Italian Under-Secretary Baccini assured the High Commissioner that his government - which recently pledged Euros 1 million for Colombian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) - will continue to support the refugee agency's work in the troubled region.
"I want to express my appreciation for the work carried out by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Lubbers, and to thank Mr Armani for his support and the solidarity with UNHCR," said Baccini. "What is being done in Colombia is part of these concrete actions, which are different from mere charity, which can help a state to face a humanitarian crisis. I support these efforts because one of Italy's main foreign policy objectives is to assist populations in need, so that they do not become victims of international crime and terrorism."
The Under-Secretary added, "This initiative is also an illustration of the humanitarian role which private companies can play and, at the same time, bring to the attention of the world Italy's traditional corporate social responsibility."
In 2003, Telecom Italia Learning Service (TILS), part of the Telecom Italia group, will contribute to the implementation of an education project - including training for teachers and the purchase of school supplies - for Colombian IDPs and refugee children.
The UN refugee agency has four offices in Colombia, three in Ecuador and two in Venezuela. Through its field presence, it aims to provide protection, assistance and lasting solutions for the displaced persons inside Colombia and for Colombian refugees in neighbouring countries.
UNHCR's activities focus on reinforcing the government's abilities to cope with the needs of the displaced, providing legal assistance to displaced people and supporting their associations. The agency operates a mobile unit to register the internally displaced, who are often located in remote areas around the country, and to help them obtain identification documents in order to facilitate their access to aid.
UNHCR is also active in strengthening the implementation of national legislation in all the different phases of displacement, with special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable groups. The agency has launched a number of programmes on education for displaced children, psychological and social rehabilitation of children and families traumatised by the conflict, and support for women who head households.