Displaced Colombians seek shelter at unconventional sites

(UNITED NATIONS) – As the number of people driven from their homes to escape violence across Colombia topped three million in 2009, the United Nations refugee agency said today that more and more of the forcibly displaced are seeking safety on scraps of land that no one else wants.

A stretch of beach on the outskirts of Cartagena is one such site, where some 118 families have created a settlement accommodating a new family every week, noted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

When these families arrived, the Villa Gloria district on the Caribbean coast had no electricity or other municipal services because city authorities said it was prone to flooding and land ownership was unclear.
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Colombian refugees adrift in undocumented limbo in Venezuela

InterPress Service reports

Peasants fleeing Colombia’s armed conflict are still trickling into Venezuela, joining the multitude who in the last seven years have requested refugee status and an identity document to help them rebuild their lives in their new country.

One problem is that “we are not out of reach here of the forces fighting in Colombia,” Laura (not her real name), a candy seller at a spot between Guasdualito and El Nula, two settlements in the border zone with Colombia in southwestern Venezuela about 650 km from Caracas, told IPS.

In 2005, Laura and the father of her third daughter, now five years old, managed a small restaurant in Vichada, a province in eastern Colombia near the Orinoco river, which was then controlled by the leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), when suddenly the area was overrun by far-right paramilitary militias.

“Neither side tolerates people having any connection with the other. That time about 15 people were killed. I came to Venezuela with my three children, my partner fled and joined the FARC. We split up. Now he wants to take our little girl to Colombia: I won’t have it but he’s making death threats, calling me up from a telephone inside Venezuela,” said Laura.

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Conflict in Colombia knows no borders

On Universal Children’s Day, November 20, Jesuit Refugee Service expresses extreme concern about the continuing widespread, systematic and habitual use, recruitment, and exploitation of children in the Colombian armed conflict.

Although the exact magnitude and geographical extension of child recruitment is unknown, as many as 11,000 Colombian children are deployed either as combatants, or in support roles, in the war. Being forcibly compelled to risk one’s life and/or commit atrocious acts while being exposed to physical illnesses and injuries, sexual violence and torture, can only be described as inhumane. This recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups is a crime against humanity, according to the JRS Latin America and Caribbean regional office.

(Listen to a radio interview here.)
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Colombia's internal conflict is crossing borders

Refugees International has a new report – Colombia: Crisis Bubbling Over – stating that the

impact of Colombia’s internal armed conflict on Ecuador and Venezuela is destabilizing border regions while thousands of Colombians continue to flee their country in search of sanctuary.

Patterns of violence in Ecuadorian and Venezuelan border areas are starting to mirror Colombian trends where illegal armed groups are conducting criminal activities, terrorizing local populations, and exercising social control over entire communities.

To learn more, and to see policy recommendations, please click here.

Venezuelan aid extended to refugees

The Venezuelan Government has expanded micro-finance assistance to Colombian refugees and asylum-seekers in border areas, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

“This plan promotes self-employment in host communities and is a big step in the effort to protect and integrate some 12,000 asylum-seekers who are waiting for status recognition,” Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
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