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Colombia: UNHCR concerned about return dangers in north-west

Briefing notes

Colombia: UNHCR concerned about return dangers in north-west

20 July 2004

In north-west Colombia, UNHCR is concerned about the possible dangers facing more than 1,200 indigenous Embera people who have decided to return to their homes in five communities over the last few days following their displacement by fighting in March. Since they were forced to flee, they had been staying in communities along the Atrato River, in the north-west Chocó region.

The Embera completed their return between last Thursday (15 July) and Sunday (18 July). The communities of Egoróquera, Union Baquiaza and La Playita returned to their homes along the Opogado River, while the communities of Union Cuití and Hoja Blanca went back to their homes along the Napipí and Cuia rivers, respectively.

Precarious security conditions in the region of return are cause for deep concern because the irregular armed groups whose clashes caused the Embera to flee in the first place remain in the area. In making their decision to return, the indigenous communities expressed fear about security at home, but said the lack of their traditional foodstuffs and inadequate health services in the receiving communities compelled them to go back - despite the fact that authorities provided basic emergency assistance.

UNHCR staff continue to monitor these groups after their return home, travelling to villages by boat on the Atrato River. UNHCR has two field offices in the region, at Apartadó and Quibdó.

UNHCR has urged the Colombian authorities to give the utmost attention to the security of these Embera communities and has asked them to ensure the provision of promised aid, including building materials, seeds and boat repairs.