UNHCR uses video to tackle xenophobia in Costa Rica

News Stories, 14 April 2010

© UNHCR/A.Vásquez
Juan Camilo Saldarriaga (right), a Colombian refugee, talks to the makers of "Main Cover" before its production.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica, April 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is taking part in a biennial video festival as part of its effort to tackle xenophobia and the widespread negative perceptions in Costa Rica about refugees, especially among young people.

Jozef Merkx, UNHCR's representative in Costa Rica, said the agency decided to try this new approach after the results of a recent survey showed that 57 per cent of those who knew what a refugee was had an unfavourable opinion of them. The study, which was commissioned by UNHCR, also revealed that refugees were most likely to be seen in a bad light by those aged between 18 and 35.

"It was at that time that we decided to target young people in our efforts to combat xenophobia. We knew that this population could be more open-minded [than older people] and act as a multiplying agent [for getting our messages of tolerance across] and contribute to change," Merkx explained.

UNHCR sponsored an initiative called "The Pressure Cooker," under which seven young film makers were brought together for a week and asked to produce a short documentary on refugee issues to be shown at "La 240," a week-long audio-visual festival for young people from around Central America.

The festival opened on Sunday with the screening of their work, "Main Cover" ("Primera Plana"), a powerful seven-minute documentary about a persecuted journalist forced to flee his home and seek shelter overseas. Sergio Pucci, one of the seven people behind the short feature, said he had learned much more about refugee issues while doing research for the documentary. "I knew that refugees were people fleeing home, but I would confuse the term with other concepts. That must happen to many young people," he said.

"Main Cover" received a good reception from the audience, which included some refugees such as 18-year-old Camilo Saldarriaga from Colombia. Most of the more than 12,000 refugees living in Costa Rica originate from Colombia, where years of conflict have left hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

"I think it's a great idea to create awareness among 'La 240' spectators because many of them are audio-visual producers who will join the media," Saldarriaga commented. "Main Cover" will be shown throughout the festival and at other events in the future.

Sergio Pacheco, a co-organizer of the festival, noted that nobody chooses to be a refugee. "As a society and as human beings, we need to understand that experience [of being a refugee] in order to support the people that go through it. I think that is the greatest contribution from 'The Pressure Cooker,'" he noted.

UNHCR is organizing a wide rage of awareness activities in the coming months to counter xenophobia in Costa Rica.

By Andrea Vásquez in San José, Costa Rica

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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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