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UNHCR monitors return of indigenous IDPs to north-western Colombia

UNHCR monitors return of indigenous IDPs to north-western Colombia

More than 1,200 internally displaced Embera people have gone back to their homes in recent days despite continued security concerns. UNHCR has asked the Colombian authorities to look out for the safety of these returnees.
20 July 2004
Internally displaced indigenous Emberas in Opogado, north-western Colombia.

CHOCÓ, Colombia, July 20 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is monitoring the situation of more than 1,200 displaced indigenous Embera people who have returned to their homes in north-western Colombia despite continued security concerns.

Between last Thursday and Sunday, the Embera people went back to their communities of Egoróquera, Union Baquiaza, La Playita, Union Cuití and Hoja Blanca in north-western Colombia. They had fled their homes in March after fighting between irregular armed groups, and sought refuge along the Atrato river in the Chocó region, not far from the border with Panama.

"Precarious security conditions in the region of return are cause for deep concern because the irregular armed groups whose clashes caused the Embera to flee in the first place remain in the area," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis at a news briefing on Tuesday.

"The Embera really have a strong aversion to being displaced," said Jozef Merkx, a senior UNHCR official who knows the area. "They're very attached to their communal land. They held a congress, decided to go back, and back they went - even though the security situation was less than ideal."

Pagonis noted that the indigenous communities expressed fear about security at home, but said the lack of their traditional foodstuffs and inadequate health services in the receiving communities compelled them to go back. This was despite the fact that the authorities had provided basic emergency assistance.

UNHCR staff have been travelling by boat to villages along the Atrato river to monitor the recent returns. The agency has also urged the Colombian authorities to give the utmost attention to the security of these Embera communities, as well as asking them to ensure the provision of promised aid, including building materials, seeds and boat repairs.