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Ecuador issues ID to 27,000 refugees in remote northern areas of the country

News Stories, 6 April 2010

© UNHCR/S.Aguilar
UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Janet Lim (middle right) meeting recently with Colombian refugee women in northern Ecuador, the region where the registration programme was conducted.

QUITO, Ecuador, April 6 (UNHCR) More than 27,000* Colombian refugees in remote areas of northern Ecuador have received identity documents under a recently completed year-long registration programme. The joint project conducted by the Ecuadorean government and UNHCR could be a model for Latin America, where the majority of refugees have to go to towns and cities to be registered.

Under the innovative initiative that ended on March 31, mobile teams of Ecuadorean civil servants and UNHCR staff travelled through difficult terrain, including forests and rivers, to reach and register the refugees. Registration is a vital step in the process towards being formally recognized as a refugee.

The Enhanced Registration Project was established by UNHCR and the Ecuadorean government to reach Colombian refugees living in remote areas. By using mobile registration teams, the waiting period for a government decision on asylum claims was reduced from several months to one day. Recognized refugees received a government document certifying their status as refugees.

People whose cases required further analysis received a provisional document confirming their status as an asylum-seeker. Without such documentation, refugees and asylum-seekers lack essential legal protection and access to assistance.

Many refugees have been living in remote border areas of the north for years, unable to access asylum procedures in urban areas either because of lack of resources and information or because of fear. Without legal status a majority of these refugees became vulnerable and marginalized.

Documentation makes a real difference in the lives of refugees, who can use it to move freely in Ecuador and to gain access to health centres, schools and other services. But this is just a first step and additional efforts are needed to help the newly registered refugees to integrate into isolated host communities. The project aimed to reach the most vulnerable, including children, women and older people.

UNHCR supported the government in this complex protection and logistical effort, which has provided a more accurate picture of the number of Colombian refugees living in northern Ecuador and their needs. This project almost doubled the number of registered refugees in Ecuador to more than 45,000, with almost all of them Colombian. However, UNHCR estimates there could be another 100,000 people in Ecuador who may be in need of international protection.

* The figure of some 27,740 is the latest available. Earlier reports indicated some 26,000

By Andrea Escalante in Quito, Ecuador

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Registration

The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.

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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