Colombia: big increase in asylum seekers around world
UNHCR has seen a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers from Colombia around the world this year. The increase is attributed to the deterioration of the conflict in Colombia over the past 12 months. In Europe and North America, over 6,000 Colombian asylum applications were received in the first half of 2001, more than twice the number received over the same period in 2000. In these regions combined, Colombians now represent the 12th largest nationality requesting asylum, up from a ranking of 21st for the first six months of 2000.
Colombians are also increasingly seeking asylum in neighbouring countries and other states in the region. Costa Rica has seen a sharp increase in Colombian asylum applications this year - over 2,500 new arrivals from Colombia were registered from January through June 2001, compared to 333 arrivals over the same period in 2000. The trend has continued in July and the first half of August, with a record high of over 1,000 new Colombian arrivals in less than six weeks. UNHCR has dispatched a refugee status determination team to Costa Rica to help the government deal with the growing backlog of asylum claims. The team is interviewing asylum seekers, reviewing pending cases, and providing advice, training and equipment to the government. UNHCR provides some assistance to the most vulnerable asylum seekers in Costa Rica, who make up approximately one-fourth of the new arrivals. Asylum seekers in Costa Rica do not have the right to work until their refugee claims are approved. In contrast to earlier groups of mostly middle class, urban Colombians seeking asylum in Costa Rica, an increasing number of the new arrivals are from rural areas.
Reports indicate that Colombians also continue to cross into Venezuela and other neighbouring countries. Ecuador has received over 1,800 requests for asylum from Colombians so far this year, compared to less than 30 such requests in the first six months of 2000. A UNHCR refugee status determination team, similar to the team in Costa Rica, has been working with the government in Ecuador since June. In addition, an estimated 1,000 Colombians, most of whom arrived in the past year, remain in Panama's Darién region bordering on Colombia.
The number of Colombians seeking asylum in the region and further abroad likely represents only a small percentage of those Colombians currently outside their country, many of whom may not have asked for asylum. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Colombia itself.