UNHCR to open two new field offices to help displaced in Colombia
BOGOTA, Colombia, January 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency will soon open two more field offices in Colombia to help cope with the humanitarian crisis facing some three million people displaced by violence in the South American country.
This will bring to 12 the number of UNHCR locations in Colombia and coincides with the launch of a nationwide campaign to make 2007 the "Year of the Rights of Displaced People." Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
The new offices will be located in Medellín, Colombia's second largest city, and in Villavicencio, south-east of Bogota. Medellín is the capital of the department of Antioquia, which has traditionally been one of the regions most affected by the conflict. In the past decade, more than 300,000 people there have been displaced by the violence. Like elsewhere in Colombia, many have left their homes in rural areas, where the conflict is at its worst, to take refuge in the city.
In Meta, where Villavicencio is located, more than 64,000 people are registered as displaced. However, the authorities acknowledge that the real numbers could be much higher since many people have had no access to registration. The office there will serve as a base for UNHCR to cover the remote south-eastern parts of the country.
Roberto Meier, UNHCR representative in Colombia, said the opening of the two offices was aimed at decentralising operations and to help the agency "become more efficient and effective at the field level."
Colombia's armed conflict, which started in the 1960s, last year forced some 110,000 people to flee their homes, according to provisional government figures. This included around 13,000 in Antioquia and 9,000 in Meta. Non-governmental organisations put the figure at 200,000.
UNHCR has been working in Colombia since 1997 to back up the authorities' response to the displacement crisis. In the coming year, the agency will use the platform of the "Year of the Rights of Displaced People" to raise public awareness and lobby for displaced people's rights.
Meier said UNHCR also wanted to use the campaign to tell the displaced "that we know that they exist, we know they are there and we are doing the utmost to improve their conditions." The Colombian parliament is currently considering passing a law in support of the campaign's objectives.
Meanwhile, High Commissioner António Guterres plans to attend a UNHCR conference this March in Bogota about displaced people in Colombia and refugee protection. UNHCR's budget for Colombia in this year is US$14 million, up from US$11.7 million in 2006.