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Violence in Colombia displacing more people into Ecuador

News Stories, 12 April 2012

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
Senor Padilla with his wife and children at a UNHCR sponsored shelter home in San Lorenzo in north-western Ecuador.

SAN LORENZO, Ecuador, April 12 (UNHCR) Senor Padilla, his wife and two of their children escaped to the small Ecuadorean port of San Lorenzo in late February, joining the growing number of people fleeing fresh violence in nearby Colombia.

"We came because two paramilitary factions and one guerrilla group were wreaking havoc in the area where we lived. They are killing a lot of the local people," Padilla told UNHCR. Growing numbers of people have been arriving in northern Ecuador's Esmeraldas province this year and asking for asylum. Like Padilla, they cite increased violence across the border.

Significant numbers of people have been crossing into the province to seek shelter for years, with government figures putting the number at 1,200 to 1,500 people a month, said Oscar Sánchez Piñeiro, head of UNHCR's field office in Esmeraldas.

But he added that the number had risen due to "the deteriorating conditions" in and around Tumaco, the main Pacific port in south-west Colombia's Nariño department. In one week earlier this year, UNHCR estimates that there were 600 arrivals.

Sánchez Piñeiro said that a further 1,000 people are believed to have arrived in Esmeraldas province during the same time, but had not been able to file asylum claims because it was difficult getting from border areas to the provincial capital, Esmeraldas, where the government registers new arrivals.

"The new arrivals say the situation in Colombia remains volatile," the UNHCR official said. "Among the arriving population there are many women and children who had to flee because of threats, assassinations of relatives or the occupation of their land by irregular armed groups. Many live in precarious conditions, especially due to their proximity to the conflict zone and increasing violence in the border."

UNHCR visitors met Padilla and his family at a shelter in San Lorenzo, where they were receiving assistance until they could find somewhere more permanent to live and look for a livelihood. They decided to leave Tumaco after one of the armed groups killed three people in their neighbourhood, Padilla said, adding: "It was rumoured that three more people were missing."

But Padilla did not have enough money for transport to the border and he and his wife made the tough decision to leave their two oldest children a 10-year-old girl and a boy aged 13 with relatives in the hope that they could later reunite in Ecuador. His wife worries about the two children. "It hurt me a lot when I had to leave as I had never been far away from them, never."

Many of the families arriving in this area stay with local communities on San Lorenzo's stretch of coast, while others like Padilla's family are provided with temporary accommodation. "We have several locations where we provide shelter for the new arrivals, especially for the vulnerable ones in San Lorenzo," said Sánchez Piñeiro, adding that needs surpassed UNHCR's capacity.

UNHCR offers weekly briefings for the new arrivals in San Lorenzo, which is the first point of entry for many. The sessions include orientation on how to access the asylum process and also arranged information meetings through the provincial Refugee Directorate, which is the state entity in charge of providing registration and conducting the asylum process.

One priority for UNHCR is to work with the protection networks established in the border region to help trace the separated family members and to enhance protection activities along the northern border with Colombia.

Debbie Elizondo, UNHCR's representative in Quito, noted that Ecuador is the largest refugee-hosting country in Latin America, with more than 55,000 recognized Colombian refugees. But she also expressed concern about the dangers asylum seekers face in the border areas inside Ecuador.

"Many people may think that perhaps there is no more conflict in Colombia, but the reality is that we continue to see thousands fleeing the increasingly volatile areas and fragmented fighting," she said, adding that the border area was dangerous.

"Just last year, 15 refugees or asylum-seekers were assassinated in the province of Esmeraldas. There is also an increased presence of illegal armed groups along the border and they operate in the region and foster systemic human rights violations," Elizondo added.

By Babar Baloch in San Lorenzo, Ecuador

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Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

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In scenes of devastation similar to the carnage across the border in Darfur, some 20 villages in eastern Chad have been attacked, looted, burned and emptied by roving armed groups since 4 November. Hundreds of people have been killed, many more wounded and at least 15,000 displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

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