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Ecuador: Start of pilot refugee registration scheme

Briefing notes

Ecuador: Start of pilot refugee registration scheme

12 December 2008

Ecuador started this week a nationwide refugee registration scheme in two pilot locations along the border with Colombia. Up to 50,000 refugees will benefit from the project, which aims to recognize and document refugees who have been in the country for more than a year.

Like other countries win the region, Ecuador faces a major challenge of refugee documentation. It is home to some 20,000 refugees, but an additional 130,000 people who may be in need of international protection have not been registered, either through lack of information or difficulty of access.

Three mobile teams made up of registration officials, representatives from the Ecuadorian government and UNHCR observers are taking part in the pilot phase in Ecuador's Amazonian region. They began on Monday in the small community of Barranca Bermeja and will end Saturday in La Bonita. The two communities are very isolated and lacking in basic infrastructure like electricity and running water.

The pilot exercise will test the logistics of the operation, which involves setting up a connection with the central database of the refugee registration office in the capital, Quito, as well as facilities to print documentation cards for recognized refugees. The objective is to speed up the registration process, so that people in need of international protection can be interviewed, assessed and issued with documentation on the same day.

The majority of refugees come from Colombia, where armed conflict and generalized violence have forced millions of people to flee. On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNHCR in Colombia issued a new call for solidarity with internally displaced people. During a celebration in Bogota on Wednesday night, 5,000 paper lanterns were lit up in support of internally displaced people were lit up and other victims of the conflict.

The celebration marked the close of the UNHCR-led Corre por la Vida (Running for Life) campaign to foster solidarity with the displaced and raise understanding of the massive human rights violations that lead to forced displacement. The Internet-based campaign encouraged donations, volunteer work and involvement of the private sector in providing durable solutions.

The campaign has counted among its supporters the Colombian singer Juanes, who issued a message Wednesday in support of displaced people, as well as of the Para-Olympic athlete Elkin Serna who took part in the celebrations. Serna, who is visually impaired, won the Silver Medal in the Marathon category during the Beijing Para-Olympics Games earlier this year. He was 11 when his family was forced to flee as a result of threats from an irregular armed group in the north of Colombia.

UNHCR has 12 offices inside Colombia, where it has been working since 1998 to support the State's efforts to address one of the largest crises of forced internal displacement in the world. It works from four locations in Ecuador, three of them along the northern border with Colombia. UNHCR also has offices in Venezuela, Brazil, Panama and Costa Rica, all countries with large numbers of Colombian refugees.