UN launches “unprecedented” program for Colombian refugees

Some 50,000 Colombians who have fled war and insecurity in their homeland and settled in northern Ecuador will be able to register under a new program being carried out by the government with the help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The $2 million Enhanced Registration project, launched this week in the small community of Muisne, Esmeraldas province, and will continue for at least a year and cover every province along Ecuador’s northern border. UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said the program is “unprecedented” in Latin America.

Redmond told a news conference in Geneva: “The importance of the Enhanced Registration project is twofold: it shortens the waiting period for a government decision on asylum claims from several months to just one day; and it takes the asylum process to the field, where many refugees have been living for years and were unable to access asylum systems in urban areas because they didn’t have the resources or because they feared being detained.”

More than 200 people received refugee visas in the first three days of the project. “As the mobile teams travel north in the Esmeraldas province, the numbers are expected to grow as the presence of Colombians is more numerous near the border,” Redmond noted. There are currently some 22,000 registered refugees in Ecuador, but the government and UNHCR estimate the total number in need of international protection could be close to 135,000. (UN News Centre, March 27)

Also this week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on Colombia, finding that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continued by both illegal armed groups and the Colombian military. The report also highlighted underlying structural problems such as inequitable distribution of wealth, discrimination and stigmatization of vulnerable groups as factors that limit “limit full enjoyment of human rights.” The report noted insufficient progress on the Millennium Development Goals. It said the government has made great efforts to strengthen the rule of law, mainly through increasing state presence in locations previously under the control of illegal armed groups. However, serious rights violations continued to take place with impunity. The report noted stigmatization of human rights defenders, opposition leaders and social activists by some government officials, putting at risk their life, security and valuable work. (UN Human Rights Council, March 25)

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