Reception centre expands to assist more refugees in Ecuador
QUITO, Ecuador, May 6 (UNHCR) - "Even though our countries are so close, coming to Ecuador from Colombia was like a cold shower for me, everything is so different," said Mirian, a Colombian asylum seeker waiting to receive humanitarian assistance at the Pro-Refugee Committee reception centre in Quito. "Coming here to the centre is like finding a little piece of home."
Each day, dozens of Colombians arrive at the doors of Quito's Pro-Refugee Committee, a UNHCR implementing partner. For these victims of the Colombian conflict, the centre is a place where they can register their refugee claims, get legal assistance, and on many occasions, receive psychological attention and skills training.
Out of the six reception centres currently operating in Ecuador, the Pro-Refugee Committee centre has the largest capacity to attend to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees. Last year, it provided assistance to more than 4,100 asylum seekers, most of them Colombians.
This week, the Pro-Refugee Committee expanded its facilities by adding an extension to the building in Quito. This much-needed expansion, supported by German cooperation agency GTZ, the Catholic Church and UNHCR, was driven by the increasing number of asylum claims in Ecuador.
In 2003, the country received a total of 11,463 asylum claims, 99 percent of which were made by Colombians. This represents a 50-percent increase in the number of asylum claims received between 2000 and 2002.
"This centre provides a meeting space for people who are fleeing the Colombian conflict. This is where they can build friendships and share the needs and challenges they face in this new reality," explained Sister Inés Facioli, Director of the Pro-Refugee Committee. "It's obvious that during the integration process, many of them will experience difficulties and confront discrimination."
To meet their needs and facilitate the integration process, the centre has invited volunteers from the Ecuadorian Red Cross to hold weekly medical check-ups for asylum seekers. At the same time, refugees and asylum seekers can attend skills-training workshops, organised with funding from GTZ. Since 2001, the German agency has invested over $2.5 million to fund projects and activities complementing UNHCR programmes in Ecuador. It has also financed more specific initiatives such as the purchasing of equipment, the training of personnel and the contracting of staff.
Another UNHCR partner, the Catholic Church, has worked with the refugee agency since 1975, even though UNHCR officially opened its Ecuador office only in 2000.
"Our cooperation with UNHCR is something that we value enormously. We've been working together continuously for over 28 years, and our efforts are completely in line with the principle of helping refugees, as based on the ancient concept of refuge recognised by the Catholic Church," said Monseñor Eguiguren, Secretary of the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference. "To protect and assist the refugees in Ecuador is a mission that we do not want to give up."
Ecuador receives the highest number of Colombian asylum seekers at the regional level. Between January 2000 and March this year, the total number of asylum seekers rose to 23,584. This trend is expected to continue and UNHCR is responding by expanding the number of cooperation and assistance programmes being implemented in the country.