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Lubbers expresses concern over worsening humanitarian situation in Colombia

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Lubbers expresses concern over worsening humanitarian situation in Colombia

13 November 2002

November 13, 2002

MILAN, Italy - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today highlighted the worsening situation for displaced people and refugees from Colombia.

The concerns were raised at an event held this morning at the Teatro Armani in Milan, attended as well by Italy's Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mario Baccini.

At the event, Giorgio Armani, UNHCR goodwill ambassador, hosted the first showing of the documentary film 'Desplazados'. The 20-minute video includes American actress Angelina Jolie, also a goodwill ambassador for the agency, who visited the region.

The crisis in Colombia has forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes this year alone. In all, some 2 million people have been displaced over the decades of conflict. Tens of thousands more have been forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, as well as in North America and Europe. In the first six months of this year, some 900 to 1,000 people became internally displaced each day in Colombia. The film describes the dramatic situation of the people who have been forced to flee as a result of the long-standing conflict in the South American country.

High Commissioner Lubbers, who is scheduled to visit Colombia at the end of November to see first-hand the situation for the displaced, noted the terrible conditions in which Colombian refugees and displaced persons are forced to live.

"While the responsibility for assisting and protecting internally displaced people lies first and foremost with the Colombian government, the dramatic worsening of the humanitarian situation in Colombia requires a greater effort on the part of the humanitarian agencies, the whole of the international community and private donors," Lubbers stressed. "Unfortunately, the human impact of this conflict is too often overlooked. We at UNHCR are trying to do more to raise the visibility of the displaced people as well as to increase our field presence to provide protection to those affected, but for this we need funds."

'Desplazados', a film produced by UNHCR's Rome Office, was shot last summer in Colombia and Ecuador. Angelina Jolie took part in the filming while she was in Ecuador in June visiting communities hosting Colombian refugees. 'Desplazados' is one of the initiatives aimed at the launch of the UN refugee agency's next fundraising campaign in Italy on behalf of Colombians impacted by the conflict. The campaign, which also includes television and newspaper ads, will be launched in Italy at the beginning of December.

Giorgio Armani - one of the world's most renowned fashion designers - was appointed UNHCR goodwill ambassador last May in recognition of his efforts in raising funds and public awareness on behalf of refugees, especially during the recent crisis in Afghanistan. In welcoming the participants to the event, Armani - the only Italian holding the post of UNHCR goodwill ambassador - underlined the fact that "it is the duty of all of us to be aware of this and of all the other largely forgotten realities and to work towards easing the suffering of innocent civilians."

During the event, Undersecretary Baccini confirmed the support of the Italian government - which has recently pledged 1 million euros for Colombian refugees and displaced persons - to UNHCR's efforts in the region.

"I want to express my appreciation for the work carried out by the High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Lubbers and to thank Mr. Armani for his support and the solidarity with UNHCR. What is being done in Colombia is part of these concrete actions, which are different from mere charity, which can help a state to face a humanitarian crisis. I support these efforts because one of Italy's main foreign policy objectives is to assist populations in need, so that they do not become victims of international crime and terrorism," the Undersecretary said. "This initiative" Mr. Baccini added "is also an illustration of the humanitarian role which private companies can play and, at the same time, bring to the attention of the world Italy's traditional corporate social responsibility."

Through its field presence in the region - four offices throughout Colombia, three in Ecuador and two in Venezuela - UNHCR aims to provide protection, assistance and lasting solutions for the displaced persons inside Colombia and for Colombian refugees in neighbouring countries. UNHCR's activities focus on reinforcing the government's abilities to cope with the needs of the displaced, providing legal assistance to displaced people and supporting their associations. The agency operates a mobile unit to register the internally displaced, who are often located in remote areas around the country, and to help them obtain identification documents in order to facilitate their access to aid.

UNHCR is also active in strengthening the implementation of national legislation in all the different phases of displacement, with special attention to the needs of the most vulnerable groups. The agency has launched a number of programmes on education for displaced children, psychological and social rehabilitation of children and families traumatized by the conflict, and support for women who head households.

Lubbers announced today that to finance its operations in the region in 2003, UNHCR will need over $10 million: $5.6 millon for activities in Colombia, $2.9 million for Venezuela, $1.6 million for Ecuador and almost half a million dollars for Panama. In 2002, UNHCR requested $8.3 million for all these countries, but with the year drawing to a close has received only $5.5 million so far from governments and private donors.

Telecom Italia Learning Service (TILS), the new e-company of Telecom Italia group which is working in the national and international learning and knowledge management market, has decided to support UNHCR's programmes in the region. In 2003, thanks to TILS among others, an education project will be implemented - including training for teachers and the purchase of school supplies - on behalf of Colombian displaced and refugee children.

'Desplazados' will be broadcast tonight on Italian television during the Tg3 news focus programme 'Primo Piano'.