By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO, Ecuador – Delegates from a bilateral commission recently convened to establish a plan to help the tens of thousands of Colombian refugees who are currently living in Ecuador.
As many as 15,000 additional refugees are expected to flee war-torn Colombia for Ecuador this year alone.
The talks were chaired by senior officials from both nations and although no solution was reached, the delegates involved agreed to deepen cooperation to lobby governments for aid to the refugees.
Currently, 53,000 Colombians are officially living in Ecuador as refugees, although many experts suspect that there are 135,000 Colombians who have fled to Ecuador. There are also 80,000 additional refugees still living on Ecuadorian soil who are in need of protection. Colombians are fleeing their home country in droves to escape rebel violence.
Although the refugee problem has been long-recognized, solutions have been slowed by Colombia’s refusal to accept responsibility. Alfonso Morales, the head of the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry’s department for refugees, said this week that the country has spent $40 million to attend to the refugees’ needs, while its neighbor to the north has contributed just $625,000 since 2000. By many accounts, however, this meeting is an important first step towards a resolution.
The delegates’ primary objective for these meetings is to develop a comprehensive strategy to return displaced Colombians back to their home country and to ensure that the rights of the refugees are fully protected.
In addition to the tens of thousands of Colombians that continue to be forced to flee the country due to the ongoing violence, reports claim that the population of internally displaced Colombians has grown from 1 million to more than 4 million since 2004. The human rights group Codhes says that 2.4 million Colombians were driven from their home country from 2002 to 2009, estimating that the total number of displaced people is now up to 4.9 million.
The delegates said that the next bilateral meeting will be held on Oct. 14 in Bogota and include the participation of representatives from the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration.
For more information, please see:
Inside Costa Rica – Firm Steps Toward Normalization of Ecuador-Colombia Relations – 17 September 2010
Latin American Herald Tribune – Ecuador, Colombia Begin to Address Refugee Issue – 17 September 2010
Colombia Reports – Ecuador Expects 15,000 more Colombian Refugees this Year – 13 September 2010