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UNHCR official reviews needs assessment approach in Ecuador

News Stories, 24 February 2009

© UNHCR/M.Lizarzaburu
Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone with Colombian refugee children in Barranca Bermeja.

QUITO, Ecuador, February 24 (UNHCR) UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone wrapped up an official trip to Colombia and Ecuador at the weekend after discussing UNHCR's new needs assessment approach with Foreign Minister Fander Falconi and other Ecuadorean officials.

UNHCR last year piloted its Global Needs Assessment (GNA) programme in eight countries, including Ecuador, on four continents. The GNA comprehensively expresses the needs of refugees and others of concern under UNHCR's mandate.

GNA is being extended to all UNHCR operations from 2010-2011. Its aim is to outline the total needs of people of concern to UNHCR, the costs of meeting them and the consequences of any gaps. In Ecuador, the GNA found several gaps and a US$3.7 million programme was proposed to narrow the gaps.

During his meetings late last week in Quito with Falconi and representatives from donor countries, Johnstone stressed the importance of the GNA initiative. "We had a very productive time with the government and donors," said a UNHCR staff member who accompanied Johnstone.

The Deputy High Commissioner said during these meetings it was imperative that the international community provide the funding needed to meet the real needs identified by GNA. "If we all do our part we can make life better for the 30 million people around the world who are dependent upon us," Johnstone said.

Ecuador is home to an estimated 130,000 refugees more than any other country in South America. Most are from neighbouring Colombia and live in border communities such as Barranca Bermeja, which Johnstone visited on Friday with Falconi and Ecuador's Minister of Security Miguel Carvajal.

Barranca Bermeja lies on the San Miguel River separating Ecuador and Colombia and is home to some 50 families. More than 60 percent of the population are Colombians who fled across the river in recent years to escape conflict in their homeland. The village is about two hours drive on poor roads from the UNHCR field office in Lago Agrio, which Johnstone also visited.

Johnstone heard first hand from the locals about the tough conditions they live under. He also heard how the GNA had been applied to Barranca Bermeja. It was found that there was a dire need for water and sanitation systems; education and health facilities; and transportation for easier access to basic services. Also needed was a greater government presence so that people fleeing Colombia could be registered for asylum more easily.

Among those that Johnstone met was Doralba, a pregnant 35-year-old Colombian refugee who had come to Barranca Bermeja from a community an hour away with her 5-year-old daughter. "It is peaceful here, but it is also very isolated," she said. "I will deliver my baby in a few weeks and for that I will need to travel to the nearest health centre, which is three hours away by road."

If donors respond to the real needs identified by GNA, people like Doralba will not have to travel so far to access vital basic services such as health clinics.

By Xavier Orellana in Quito, Ecuador

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UNHCR country pages

Global Needs Assessment

Global Needs Assessment

A blueprint for planning and action that gives donors an accurate picture of what is needed.

Strengthening Protection Capacity

Tools and strategies to strengthen the capacity of states to receive and protect refugees. This project is now active across five continents.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

Indigenous people in Colombia

There are about a million indigenous people in Colombia. They belong to 80 different groups and make up one of the world's most diverse indigenous heritages. But the internal armed conflict is taking its toll on them.

Like many Colombians, indigenous people often have no choice but to flee their lands to escape violence. Forced displacement is especially tragic for them because they have extremely strong links to their ancestral lands. Often their economic, social and cultural survival depends on keeping these links alive.

According to Colombia's national indigenous association ONIC, 18 of the smaller groups are at risk of disappearing. UNHCR is working with them to support their struggle to stay on their territories or to rebuild their lives when they are forced to flee.

UNHCR also assists indigenous refugees in neighbouring countries like Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. UNHCR is developing a regional strategy to better address the specific needs of indigenous people during exile.

Indigenous people in Colombia

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

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