Colombians have legitimate reasons to claim asylum, suggests UNHCR

In view of the deteriorating situation in Colombia, the UN refugee agency has issued a set of guidelines to help governments and refugee advocates determine the eligibility of Colombian asylum seekers and refugees.

This family in a camp in Uraba, Colombia, is among the estimated 2 million Colombians forced from their homes since 1995.   © UNHCR/H.Timmermans

BOGOTA, Colombia, October 15 (UNHCR) - To cope with increasing numbers of displaced Colombians, the UN refugee agency has released a set of guidelines recommending that governments and refugee advocates consider Colombia's deteriorating situation when examining asylum claims by Colombians.

This year has seen a sharp rise in the number of Colombians fleeing their homes. In recent months, the number of Colombians seeking asylum in neighbouring countries has climbed by almost 60 percent compared to last year.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are on the rise too. According to both government and independent sources, the number of Colombian IDPs during the first six months of 2002 has increased by almost 100 percent compared to the same period last year, with a total of between 170,000 and 200,000 newly displaced people.

In all, it is believed that as many as 2 million people have been forced from their homes in Colombia since 1995.

The situation is deteriorating, according to sources well informed about the human rights situation in Colombia. UNHCR has concluded that, due to the growing violence and numerous human rights violations taking place across the country, many Colombians who escape abroad are indeed in need of international protection.

Colombia is home to various irregular armed groups that have a tendency to target anyone suspected of collaborating or sympathising with an opposing group, without taking into account if this collaboration is real, voluntary or forced. These armed groups also forcibly recruit young people, including minors, and resort to kidnapping and extortion both as a form of persecution and intimidation, as well as to finance their activities.

In view of the presence of such irregular armed groups throughout the country, UNHCR's guidelines, issued in September, recommend that governments examining asylum claims by Colombians should consider that most Colombians have no option of finding safety elsewhere in their homeland as an alternative to fleeing across an international border.

The guidelines also suggest that before taking a decision on an asylum application by a Colombian, a thorough analysis of the individual, family and socio-political circumstances should be carried out, taking note of the most recent information available about the situation in Colombia.