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Brazil helps ease local integration of refugees in northern Ecuador

News Stories, 17 February 2011

© UNHCR/S.Aguilar
Brazilian Ambassador Fernando Simas (in front of door), with UNHCR and Ecuadorean officials, inaugurates a new classroom in Lago Agrio.

LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador, February 16 (UNHCR) When a senior Brazilian diplomat visited north-east Ecuador last weekend he saw the first fruits of a unique cooperation programme aimed at easing the local integration of thousands of Colombian refugees.

During a two-day visit to the border province of Sucumbios, Brazilian Ambassador to Ecuador Fernando Simas opened a classroom in the provincial capital, Lago Agrio, inspected new facilities in a shelter for abused women, visited a renovated playground and met refugees in an isolated community on the Putumayo River, which forms the border with Colombia.

Under an agreement with Ecuador signed last September, Brazil pledged to actively support the integration of the estimated 15,000 refugees in Sucumbios and to help their needy Ecuadorean neighbours. It is the first cooperation agreement of its sort in Latin America.

The Brazilian government is funding projects in the areas of education, sexual and gender-based violence, and water and sanitation infrastructure. The UNHCR office in Lago Agrio is organizing their implementation.

"These are flagship projects, the first undertaken with Brazilian cooperation in such remote communities. They benefit both Ecuadoreans and Colombian refugee families," said Ambassador Simas, adding: "This help is given in recognition of Ecuador's commitment to receive these displaced Colombians."

Staff and students at the February 16 Primary School in Lago Agrio gave the envoy a warm welcome when he arrived with UNHCR staff during a thunderstorm to open the new classroom, which was built with Brazilian funds.

"There are many refugee children studying here," said one of the teachers, while adding that they were welcome. "We are very happy today as professional teachers, because, with this new classroom, we will be able to give our best to the children, their parents and the community."

In the town's El Aeropuerto district, Simas was shown public conveniences built with Brazilian funding as well as a rehabilitated playground benefitting all children who live in the area. In the headquarters building of the Sucumbíos Women's Federation he was shown a recreation room for the children of female victims of domestic violence.

During his visit to the isolated riverside community of El Palmar, the ambassador saw another primary school that has benefitted from Brazil's generosity. About 60 per cent of the 80 families in the community are refugees from Colombia, which can be seen across the Putumayo River.

"Until now, the children here had to take their classes in a little hut. This new brick classroom means they can be educated in dignified conditions," said Ines Guerrero, headmistress of El Palmar's La Paz Primary School. The facility, which has almost 100 students, also boasts new, more hygienic washroom facilities.

Luis Varese, UNHCR's deputy representative for Ecuador, welcomed Brazil's "unprecedented" assistance in seeking solutions. "These are the first primary schools to be opened by UNHCR with Brazilian funds in Latin America within a South-South cooperation framework," he said, referring to the facilities in Lago Agrio and El Palmar.

"Within the sphere of regional integration, it is very important for these bonds of cooperation among our nations to take root and for us to make contributions that bring home the message that continental solidarity is indeed possible," Simas concluded.

By Sonia Aguilar in Lago Agrio, Ecuador




UNHCR country pages

Local Integration

Integration of refugees in the host community allows recipients to live in dignity and peace.

Integration Initiatives: Supporting Next Steps

An inventory of opportunities and needs in the integration of resettled refugees

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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