Colombia/Ecuador: Visit of UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection
UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, is in Latin America this week on her first mission since being appointed to the newly-created post in January. Feller, who oversees UNHCR's protection work for more than 19 million refugees and other people of concern in the world, started her visit in Colombia where she had a series of meetings, including with the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, the President of the Constitutional Court, the Ombudsman and the Mayor of Bogota. She also held talks with representatives of associations working on behalf of Colombia's internally displaced persons (IDPs).
There are over 2 million IDPs in Colombia and the numbers keep increasing (non-governmental organizations give much higher estimates). The vast majority of displaced people have fled their regions of origin to escape the conflict between rival irregular armed groups. UNHCR in Colombia works to protect the rights of displaced people in cooperation with state institutions, IDP organisations and other partners.
During her stay in Colombia, Feller travelled to the Chocó region, in the west of the country, where Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are at high risk of forced displacement. She was briefed by community leaders on the pressure local people come under, including economic blockades, targeted killings, threats and intimidations at the hands of one or another of the irregular armed groups active in the region. She also visited projects for the displaced living in difficult circumstances in economically depressed areas on the outskirts of Bogota.
On Wednesday, Feller travelled to neighbouring Ecuador, where an estimated quarter of a million Colombians are of concern to UNHCR. She met with Colombian refugees living along Ecuador's northern border and is now in Quito attending a two-day meeting on resettlement in Latin America. Resettlement is one of the key solutions identified in the Mexico Plan of Action. The Plan was adopted in late 2004 by Latin American governments to help countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica, which receive a large number of Colombian refugees.