USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Notes from the Field: Reporting on the Plight of Colombian Refugees

USCRI’s Lee Williams recently traveled with representatives from other voluntary agencies to Panama and Ecuador to witness first-hand how Colombian refugees are being treated.  Over 250,000 Colombians—50,000 of whom are registered as refugees—currently live in Ecuador and more than 100,000 in Panama.

The two countries handle the refugee issue very differently, Williams reported.  Although Panama is a signatory of both the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols, the government has created significant hurdles for asylum applicants.  Currently, less than 2 percent of applicants are recognized as refugees.

Ecuador, on the other hand, has built refugee protection into its constitution and has worked with UNHCR to increase the number of recognized refugees.  However, these high ideals have not permeated throughout the legal, legislative, and human services sectors.  Women and children are at a particularly high risk of abuse and exploitation.

The video link below highlights Lago Agrio, one of the towns Williams visited in Ecuador.  It portrays the lack of protection available for Colombian women and children.

“Ecuador, Colombian Refugees Turn to Sex Work to Survive,” Latin American Current Events, January 28, 2011. Watch the video >> 

Photos top to bottom: Entrance to Lago Agrio Refugee Shelter in Ecuador; meeting with Colombian refugees in Quito, Ecuador. 

Read more about the plight of refugees around the world >>

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