High Commissioner's mission to Ecuador and Colombia
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is travelling to Latin America for a weeklong visit to Ecuador and Colombia. It is the first time the High Commissioner has visited the two countries, where millions of people have been uprooted by Colombia's internal armed conflict.
Some 3 million people are internally displaced in Colombia, representing about 8 percent of the total population of the country. The internally displaced are the biggest group of victims of the armed conflict inside Colombia that has been going on for decades.
The humanitarian consequences of the conflict also extend to other countries in the region and notably to Ecuador, where there are an estimated 250,000 Colombians in need of international protection.
Last year, an average of between 600 and 700 Colombians asked for asylum in Ecuador every month. Real numbers could be much higher, since many do not register with the authorities, often because they do not know their rights. However, the impact of this humanitarian crisis is little known in the rest of the world and more support is needed from the international community.
The High Commissioner will begin his visit in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, on Monday with a series of high-level meetings with government officials. He will then travel on to the northern border with Colombia, where many refugees live in remote and often impoverished communities. He will visit these communities, as well as a UNHCR shelter at the border, and talk with refugees and local people about the challenges they face.
The High Commissioner will leave Ecuador on Tuesday night for Colombia, where he is also scheduled to have meetings with high-ranking officials. Later in the week, he will visit Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the west of Colombia. Both ethnic minorities have suffered greatly as a result of the armed conflict in that part of the country.
During a conference in Bogota next Friday, the High Commissioner will present the main findings and conclusions of a UNHCR study evaluating the changes in displacement trends and the government's response to the crisis in the past three years. He will also launch in Bogota the 2007 'Year for the Rights of Displaced People Campaign', which aims to highlight and lobby for the rights of the displaced in Colombia.
According to the Colombian government, some 170,000 people were forcibly displaced last year inside the country. The authorities have significantly stepped up their efforts but there is still a gap between sophisticated national laws and implementation in the field, especially - but not only - in rural areas.
In practice, this gap means that displaced people are not always able to enjoy their rights to material assistance, long-term solutions and above all to a life free of violence and persecution. The 2007 campaign aims to bring attention to this and encourage the search for practical solutions.
UNHCR has three offices in Ecuador - two of them along the border - and 12 in Colombia, where it has been present since 1997.