Ecuador: refugee crisis simmers

"Why is the humanitarian crisis in the Andes so invisible," asked Rep James P. McGovern (D.-Mass), co-chair of The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission during a members' briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on 26 March 2009.

The Colombian-Ecuadorian border of the Amazon basin has become the spillover area of human suffering caused by the bitter armed conflict raging in Colombia. According to the United Nations, the Colombian refugee crisis is the third largest in the world, tied with Sudan, after Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Ecuador, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have crossed the porous jungle border seeking refuge over the past decade. In addition, an extremely dangerous environment exists for local civilians and indigenous communities with rebel and paramilitary cross-border activities, as well as drug and human trafficking.

Despite Ecuador's liberal policies regarding refugees, only about 23,000 have been granted formal refugee status during the last eight years. The vast majority of Colombians are in hiding to escape the violence in border villages. Some NGOs estimate that hundreds of thousands of Colombians currently living in Ecuador have never applied for asylum.

Guillermo Rovayo Cueva, JRS Ecuador Director, shared his experience and knowledge of the issue.