Casanova, who has formed a close relationship with the UN refugee agency over the past two years, met refugees in Quito and in villages on the Pacific coast and along the border with Colombia during her visit last week. She also met government officials and toured projects run by UNHCR and its partners.
"I met outstanding people who have endured great difficulties and are now rebuilding their lives," said the mother of two, who holds the title of Countess of Salvatierra through marriage to a Spanish aristocrat.
She said she was struck by the poor conditions and poverty in which many of the Colombians lived. Government officials briefed her on plans to improve the situation for the estimated 130,000 Colombian exiles in Ecuador, of whom only 20,000 have registered as refugees.
Casanova, whose own grandparents were refugees, said she was saddened by the suffering that many had suffered, especially women, before fleeing into Ecuador. During a visit to the Centre for Information and Orientation of Refugees in Quito, she met Silvia, who was sexually abused and beaten on her small farm in Colombia by members of an illegal armed group after helping her 17-year-old daughter escape. "Stories like these need to be listened to by a wider audience and help make a difference and create more solidarity," Casanova said.
During an event in Quito to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations, Casanova praised Ecuador's commitment to refugees and human rights. On her return to Spain, she pledged to continue her work in spreading awareness about refugees around the world.
The striking and accomplished young woman visited UNHCR projects in India and Nepal last year. She has also taken part in World Refugee Day ceremonies.
By Xavier Orellano in Quito, Ecuador