UNHCR chief Guterres urges international community to help Colombians in Ecuador
QUITO, Ecuador, March 13 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called for more international cooperation to help thousands of Colombian refugees in Ecuador.
During a meeting with President Rafael Correa in the capital, Quito, on Monday, the High Commissioner thanked the people of Ecuador for their exceptional generosity towards refugees. He said the international community had an obligation to help Ecuador fulfil its international responsibilities. The South American country is home to the largest refugee population in the region.
UNHCR and the Ecuadorean government jointly estimate that up to 250,000 Colombians have fled to Ecuador to escape the armed conflict in neighbouring Colombia. The numbers keep growing, with an average of 700 Colombians a month asking for asylum. Many others who cross the border do not register but are still able to enjoy Ecuador's hospitality and protection.
Little is known outside the region about this protracted humanitarian crisis. Guterres called for the support and solidarity of the international community. He said concrete measures were needed and reaffirmed his commitment to support Ecuador's efforts for peace and development as a crucial step for refugee integration.
Later on Monday, the High Commissioner travelled to Lago Agrio, located in the north of country near the Colombian border. The northern border is one of the poorest and least developed regions in Ecuador. Many refugees live there among local communities that often lack basic infrastructure and access to services. Guterres visited several UNHCR projects in the area that benefit both refugees and the local population, including a health centre and a primary school.
The High Commissioner stayed overnight at the border and on Tuesday was scheduled to visit a refugee shelter and border communities to talk to refugees and the local population about the challenges they face. He will leave Ecuador tonight for Colombia, where he is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with high-ranking government officials on Wednesday.
More than 3 million people have been uprooted inside Colombia as a result of the internal armed conflict involving several irregular armed groups and the state. In addition to Ecuador, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have fled to other countries in the region, including Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica.
By Marie-Hélène Verney in Quito, Ecuador