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UNHCR launches appeal for Colombia's displaced

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UNHCR launches appeal for Colombia's displaced

20 February 2007

20 February 2007

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, today said that it needs over $14 million to fund its work on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the armed conflict in Colombia.

Colombia's complex internal conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 40,000 people since 1990, most of them civilians. Over three million people have been forced out of their homes by violence, persecution or gross human rights violations. Last year alone, more than 170,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Hundreds of thousands have crossed into the surrounding countries or further afield.

"In Colombia, human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings and disappearances, are common. Illegal armed groups recruit children - often forcibly - in many areas of the country," said UNHCR Director for the Americas, Philippe Lavanchy. "More than one million children do not go to school, while 77 per cent of previously enrolled children are unable to continue their studies, mostly for financial reasons. It is likely that the displaced population will continue to increase in 2007, with indigenous people and Afro-Colombian groups under the biggest threat."

UNHCR is seeking a total of $14,436,364 for its 2007 programmes in Colombia. Last year, the refugee agency's Colombia operation financial requirements amounted to approximately $12.8 million. The 2007 funds will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance activities for internally displaced people (IDPs), which directly benefit some 350,000 people. The agency's work to protect the rights of all displaced people indirectly benefits some 3 million IDPs.

"Colombia has a very sophisticated legal and institutional framework to respond to the needs of IDPs," said Lavanchy. "Nevertheless, there is a considerable gap between the legislation and its implementation, particularly at local levels."

The gap between the law and its implementation has been acknowledged by the country's Constitutional Court. The court has ordered the government to provide a minimum standard of assistance for the displaced, additional resources for that purpose and comprehensive reports on the progress made, including on compensation for the victims of the conflict. UNHCR is working with the government to improve its response to internal displacement and compliance with the existing legislation.

UNHCR's overall objective in Colombia is to promote a collaborative and comprehensive response to what has been described as one of the world's most serious humanitarian crises. This entails preventing displacement, ensuring protection and humanitarian assistance for displaced people and fostering durable solutions for them, bearing in mind the special needs of specific groups. The way to achieve this goal is by promoting a more effective response by the state and civil society to this crisis which affects millions of Colombians.

In some parts of Colombia, the armed conflict makes it difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach affected communities. The presence of armed groups has reportedly increased in border areas, while the presence of landmines is another serious constraint.