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  • 79 Colombian Refugees are precariously camping outside UNHCR in Quito, they demand international protection.

    79 Colombian Refugees are precariously camping outside UNHCR in Quito, they demand international protection. | Photo: teleSUR

Published 12 June 2019

All the people camping outside the UNHCR building in Quito, since June 1, are victims of the armed conflict in Colombia, most of them come from the hard-hit departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Caqueta.

For 12-days now, 79 Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Ecuador have decided to precariously camp outside the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Quito, demanding international protection as they have received threats and attacks against their lives.

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Yet, as many of them told teleSUR, the institutional response has been indifference and silence. 

"I'm so tired of high ranking officials ignoring us, this is supposed to be an agency in support of refugees but the treatment is appalling, no humanity,” Monica C. told teleSUR. 

With her daughter, she has been living as a Colombian refugee for over a year. However, a couple of months ago received threats against her and her daughter’s life. Like the others present, she asks for international protection and request resettlement to a third safe nation that doesn’t border Colombia. 

All the people camping outside the UNHCR building in Quito, since June 1, are victims of the armed conflict in Colombia, most of them come from the hard-hit departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Caqueta. After arriving in Ecuador and obtaining legal status, they continued to face perilous situations thus demand this option. Most of them are families with infants and young children. 

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another state that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grants them permanent settlement. UNHCR is mandated by its Statute and the U.N. General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement as one of the three durable solutions. 

"We won't move from outside this building, as we are safe here. As long as we are outside UNHCR, at least we know no one will hurt us," Ingrid B. told teleSUR, retelling the episode when returning home with her family she found a note threating her to leave the country or face consequences. She has been living in the country for eight months. 

Almost three months ago, representing the 79 people and almost 125 families, a formal request address to UNHCR was presented, asking also for cases to be revalued and others to be streamlined.

“Despite repeated requests, the people outside our office in Quito have refused to provide a complete list of names. Those who have given us their names, or we have been able to identify, have all been attended at different periods,” a UNHCR spokesperson for the Americas told teleSUR.

According to Ingrid, they met with UNHCR after delivering the request but were told that “no guarantees could be offered,” adding that ever since no one has agreed to give them updates or answers. 

Out of the 250,000 Colombians who have requested asylum in Ecuador, only some 8,000 have been accepted for resettlement in the last 15 years, according to the UNHCR. “We understand the frustration felt by those who do not qualify for resettlement and have been rejected and are keen to maintain a dialogue with them and to find alternative solutions within Ecuador for them.”

"Now we are here because UNHCR hasn't fulfilled their mandate, we are victims, our lives are in danger," Hector R. said.  

Despite the conditions, none of the refugees want to leave, as they consider it safer here. Photo: teleSUR

As we spoke with the Colombian refugees, a catering van arrived and five trays filled with hors d'oeuvres were unloaded at the front door, the crowd gathered stood up and shouted as the doors opened. “Look how they treat themselves but for us, not even a piece of bread has been offered,” Monica said. 

Their makeshift tarps are made of industrial-made trashbags and plastic, they eat whatever donation is given, mostly by the community around the building. However, they are set on not leaving. “I’m afraid, of course, what I really want is just for them to understand and help us,” Monica’s daughter added. 

Based on the latest available figures, Colombia’s population of internally displaced people is reaching eight million. Since 1989, Ecuador has recognized 67,581 refugees as of May 31, 2019, according to UNHCR. This is the largest number of any country in Latin America. The vast majority of these recognized refugees (97,49%) are Colombian.

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