Under an innovative new program, United Nations-supported mobile teams have traversed difficult terrain in an isolated region of northern Ecuador for the past year to register 26,000 Colombian refugees.
“Registration is a vital step in the process towards being formally recognized as a refugee,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters today in Geneva.
The mobile registration scheme is considered a model for Latin America, where most refugees usually have to travel to towns and cities to be registered.
Mobile teams – comprising officials from the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and UNHCR staff –reached out to people living in remote areas, shrinking the time it takes for a Government decision on asylum claims from several months to just one day.
Those recognized as refugees were given an official document certifying their status, while those whose cases were found to require further analysis were given papers confirming their status as asylum-seekers.
“Without such documentation, refugees and asylum-seekers lack essential legal protection and access to assistance,” Mr. Mahecic noted.
Many of the refugees recently registered have been living in the remote border region between Ecuador and Colombia for years and were unable to take part in asylum procedures in cities and towns due to limited resources and information or even fear.
“Without legal status, a majority of these refugees became vulnerable and marginalized,” the UNHCR spokesperson said. “Documentation makes a real difference in the lives of these refugees who are now able to move freely in Ecuador and can access health centres, schools and other services.”
But he cautioned that the recent $2 million registration drive is just “a first step,” with additional efforts needed to help the refugees integrate into isolated host communities.
The mobile team project doubled the number of registered refugees in Ecuador to 45,000, nearly all of whom are from Colombia. UNHCR, however, estimates that an additional 100,000 people in Ecuador could be in need of international protection.