Lubbers calls for support for displaced Colombians
BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia, November 29 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers expressed his support for Colombia's internally displaced people during a visit Thursday to their communities in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. He also called for an end to violence in the war-torn country so that they can resume their lives.
"I'm here in Barrancabermeja to express my solidarity with the IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Colombia," said Lubbers. "I call on the people of Colombia to also show their solidarity with them."
Barrancabermeja, located some 250 km north of the capital Bogota, is one of the areas most affected by displacement after decades of conflict in Colombia. Some 12,600 displaced persons are registered in the municipality and many others may be displaced in the area without having registered.
"We need to put IDPs at the centre of public awareness," said Lubbers after visiting the homes of several displaced families there who told him of their plight.
The High Commissioner received a warm welcome as children performed dances, played drums and staged a play calling for tolerance at a school in one of Barrancabermeja's poorest neighbourhoods, where many displaced families live.
The school is the site of one of UNHCR's projects to help displaced children. Teachers in Colombia often lack specific training to respond to the many educational challenges posed by the presence of a high proportion of displaced children in schools. Some of the main problems among displaced children include forced recruitment, trauma and withdrawal, and stigmatisation by local communities.
UNHCR seeks to strengthen the capacity of public education to address these complex problems. The agency trains teachers, school directors and parents to identify displaced children at school, help them overcome the psycho-social effects of the conflict through education, and help them integrate with other classmates. The project also tries to sensitise children from communities receiving displaced people to better understand what it is like for their peers who have been displaced and to promote a culture of peace.
During the visit, the High Commissioner met with the mayor of Barrancabermeja and other local authorities, international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and others working with the displaced.
He also met with IDP associations in the region, including the largest group, ASODESAMUBA. Founded in 1999, the association counts some 5,000 displaced people as members.
UNHCR works to support IDP associations to help them better represent their members and bring the needs and rights of IDPs to the attention of policy makers. With ASODESAMUBA, the refugee agency - through its implementing partner Opción Legal - supports two income-generating projects run by IDPs, including training in administration and marketing, that benefit some 50 women and their families. UNHCR also trains IDP leaders on managing associations and facilitates contacts between the associations and various authorities.
Asserting that there is too much violence in Colombia, Lubbers noted particularly that women, who are often the most affected by the conflict, want peace and a new life for themselves and their children. On the country's protracted crisis, he said, "Respecting the law is the beginning of the end of violence."
On Wednesday, the High Commissioner met with President Álvaro Uribe and other senior government figures, academics, NGOs and UN agencies. He also joined other representatives of the UN System in presenting the Humanitarian Plan of Action for Colombia, which creates a joint strategic planning framework and strengthens complementarity between the UN agencies.
Lubbers wrapped up his four-day visit to Colombia on Friday with meetings in Bogota with the Ombudsman, Public Prosecutor and representatives of the private sector.