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New UNHCR field office in northern Ecuador

Briefing notes

New UNHCR field office in northern Ecuador

14 March 2008

UNHCR this week opened a new office in the north of Ecuador, bringing to three the number of its field offices along the Colombian border. The new location was officially opened on Tuesday in the presence of provincial authorities in the city of Esmeraldas, on Ecuador's Pacific Coast. It will serve as a base for UNHCR help thousands of refugees in the province and along the coast.

According to initial results from a UNHCR survey presented last month to the government in Quito, there are about 60,000 Colombians in need of international protection in Ecuador's northern provinces. These are people, most of them families with children, who have left Colombia fearing for their lives or safety because of the internal armed conflict. An estimated 10,000 of them have taken refugee in the province of Esmeraldas, one of the most under-developed regions of Ecuador. UNHCR aims to support local development at the same time as it assists refugees, for example with micro-credit loans, training programmes and help for small businesses that benefit the entire community.

Most of the refugees in this part of Ecuador come from Colombia's Pacific Coast. Esmeraldas Province borders the southern Colombian region of Nariño, which last year recorded the worst rate of forced displacement inside the country. According to the Colombian government, more than 22,000 people fled their home in Nariño during 2007. This represents more than 10 percent of all new cases of forced displacement inside Colombia.

The humanitarian situation in Nariño this year continues to be a cause for concern. The region suffers from some of the worst is of violence and persecution in Colombia. All these factors contribute greatly to the risk of more forced displacement, but in some cases people do not even have the option to flee. Some communities are cut off from the rest of the world because of an increasing number of landmines planted by irregular armed groups.

UNHCR works with other UN agencies and international organizations to coordinate a coherent response in favour of the civilian population that will contribute to long-term solutions for a permanent peace in Colombia.