UN Centre Informs Colombian Refugees On Rights
New UN centre informs Colombian refugees crossing into Ecuador on rights
26 May 2008 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has opened a new information centre at a key border crossing point to inform Colombian refugees and migrants crossing into Ecuador about their rights. Opened in cooperation with Ecuadorean authorities, the centre at the Rumichaca International Bridge links Colombia's volatile Nariño department and Ecuador's Carchi province.
Every year, some 150,000 people - including migrants and refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Colombia - cross the bridge into Ecuador.
"The main problems are lack of knowledge about the existence of an asylum system, people's fear of coming forward, or the concentration of refugees in isolated areas where services and information are scarce or non-existent," said Marta Juarez, UNHCR's representative in Ecuador.
While there are roughly 180,000 Colombians in Ecuador, only 16,000 have been formally granted refugee status, she noted.
The new centre seeks to provide refugees - many of whom are possibly unaware that they can apply for asylum in Ecuador - with information regarding their rights.
The new facility opened last week, located in a former Ecuadorian customs building. UNHCR will supply printed material and audio-visual equipment for the new office, which will be manned by two municipal employees who have received training in international refugee law and other related areas.
"This will be a great opportunity for people who arrive from now on because they will be able to know about the possibilities that Ecuador offers," said José, a Colombian refugee who attended the opening ceremony. "They will be able to learn that it is possible to request asylum in this country where I have found freedom and optimism."