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Efforts to resettle Latin American refugees

UN agency advances international efforts to resettle Latin American refugees

International efforts to resettle hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people across Latin America took a step forward this month with a landmark meeting held by the Latin American arm of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Staged in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, the two-day session organized by UNHCR’s Bureau for the Americas let officials from eight countries of the region harbouring vulnerable populations share ideas and experiences with four developed nations with strong resettlement programs.

“Its (meeting) impact is likely to be felt well beyond Latin America because what is being created here is a model for a successful regional resettlement programme that can serve as an impetus for other regions,” said Erika Feller, the refugee agency’s newly appointed Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, in a statement released on Tuesday. She added that the meeting initiated a positive North-South dialogue on resettlement issues.

In her first mission since assuming her new post in January, Ms. Feller travelled through Colombia and Ecuador last week to spotlight the plight of millions of vulnerable people in the region. Over the years, large numbers of Colombians have fled conflict in their homeland and taken refuge in Venezuela and Ecuador, which harbours about 250,000 Colombians of concern to UNHCR.

Officials in Brazil, Chile and Argentina last year offered to resettle about 250 Colombian refugees as part of the Mexico Plan of Action, a regional strategy adopted two years ago. Last week’s gathering in Quito handed officials a chance to review the Plan’s progress and encourage more countries to move on concrete measures to meet its goals.

“The basis of this programme is international solidarity, particularly solidarity with the countries most affected by the Colombian crisis,” said Philippe Lavanchy, Director of UNHCR’s Bureau for the Americas, adding that the help of countries outside the region is crucial.

Resettlement is the granting of permanent residence in a country other than the nation where a refugee first took asylum. It can be especially useful when dealing with long-term refugee situations and help countries that border conflict areas with large influxes of refugees.

Only a few countries in the world have run large resettlement programmes. In 2004, for example, about 42,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR’s help to the “traditional” resettlement countries of Australia, Canada and the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark), as well as New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Ireland.

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