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Colombia: situation deteriorating, UNHCR issues guidelines

Briefing notes

Colombia: situation deteriorating, UNHCR issues guidelines

15 October 2002

In response to a deteriorating situation in Colombia, UNHCR has just issued a set of guidelines on the eligibility of Colombian asylum seekers and refugees. The guidelines will help governments and refugee advocates dealing with asylum claims.

Based on a variety of sources well informed about the human rights situation in Colombia, UNHCR concludes that, due to the growing violence and numerous human rights violations that are taking place all across the country, many Colombians who escape abroad are indeed in need of international protection.

Various irregular armed groups operating in Colombia have a tendency to target anyone suspected of collaborating or sympathizing with an opposing group, without taking into account if this collaboration is real, voluntary or forced. In addition, all these armed groups engage in forced recruitment of young people, including minors, and resort to kidnapping and extortion both as a form of persecution and intimidation as well as to finance their activities.

Due to the presence of such irregular armed groups throughout the country, UNHCR recommends that when examining asylum claims, it should be taken into account that most Colombians have no possibility of finding safety elsewhere in the country as an alternative to fleeing across an international border.

Before taking a decision on an asylum application by a Colombian, UNHCR recommends that a thorough analysis of the individual, family and socio-political circumstances be carried out, taking due note of the most recent information available about the situation in Colombia.

In recent months, the number of Colombian asylum seekers has risen sharply. In neighbouring countries, the number has climbed by almost 60 percent over last year. And both government and independent sources report a dramatic increase in the number of internally displaced people during the first six months of 2002 - up almost 100 percent compared to the same period last year. So far this year, the total of newly displaced is estimated at between 170,000 and 200,000. In all, as many as 2 million people are believed to have been forced from their homes in Colombia since 1995.