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UNHCR field office opens in Colombia

Briefing notes

UNHCR field office opens in Colombia

7 December 1999

UNHCR has established its first field presence in Colombia with the opening of a field office in Barrancabermeja, north of Bogota in the department of Magdalena Medio.

The Barrancabermeja office, which opened December 3, is the first of three UNHCR field offices scheduled to be opened in Colombia between now and the end of next year.The other two will be located in Apartadó, in the Urabá region near the Panamanian border, and in Puerto Asís (Putumayo), near the Ecuadorian border.

The deterioration of the Colombian conflict in the past few years has led to the internal displacement of at least 800,000 people since 1996. In the first six months of 1999, an estimated 123,000 people were displaced. Much of the latest displacement occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Norte de Santander, Córdoba and Valle del Cauca.

UNHCR opened a liaison office in Bogota in June 1998 following an official request a year earlier from the Colombian government seeking help in addressing the problems of the country's huge population of internally displaced. The liaison office has since been upgraded to the status of Chargé de Mission.

UNHCR's role in Colombia is one of technical and financial cooperation and does not include the provision of relief, which has not been requested by the government. UNHCR's programme - budgeted at approximately $2 million for the year 2000 is aimed specifically at strengthening the capacity of the government and others to deal with the internally displaced population in Colombia.

It is also part of a regional strategy involving Colombia and three neighbouring countries - Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, where UNHCR opened a Liaison Office on November 30. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have large populations of Colombians.

With the current deterioration of the security situation in some parts of Colombia, neighbouring countries are also concerned about the possible presence of guerrilla groups in border regions and the instability that such presence may bring.