Colombia

Head of UNHCR's Executive Committee visits displaced in Colombia

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BOGOTA, Colombia, June 11 (ACNUR) - Love Mtesa, head of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee, has wrapped up a five-day visit to Colombia that included meeting displaced people in shanty towns and countryside settlements.

The Zambian ambassador, who had first visited neighbouring Ecuador during a familiarization tour, held talks with government officials, legislators, representatives of non-governmental organizations and UNHCR staff before leaving for Europe on Monday evening.

His trip also took him to the departments of Antioquia and Chocó, to the west of the country. Both are severely affected by displacement - in the capital of Antioquia, Medellín, more than 100,000 people are officially registered as displaced.

Visiting Medellín's Unit for Information and Assistance to Displaced Persons, Mtesa said he was impressed by what he had seen of local institutions set up to deal with the challenge of displacement. "But the dimension of the problems is so big that I definitely think UNHCR's role in strengthening institutions and disseminating information on displaced persons' rights is important," he added. Some 3 million people are displaced by conflict in Colombia.

Mtesa also visited the Altos de Cazuka shanty town on the outskirts of Bogota. Some 40 percent of the 18,000 people living in the slum are estimated to be internally displaced people (IDPs).

At the end of his Colombia visit, Mtesa visited a community of IDPs near the village of Silvania about an hour's drive away from Bogota in the Andes and was impressed by their determination to try and rebuild their lives.

"Our idea is to not leave a displacement certificate as our heritage for our sons, but a piece of land we can call our own," said one member of the 80-strong community who identified himself as Eder.

"You're a determined people and I'm sure you will achieve what you are trying to achieve," Ambassador Mtesa told Eder and members of the other 10 families in the community, most of whom had previously lived in Altos de Cazuka after fleeing their homes in coastal departments. "When I go back to Geneva I will become your ambassador," he added.

Eder said that while they could not currently return home, they wanted to live in the countryside and become self-sufficient rather than be stuck in a shanty town with no future and a poor quality of life.

"These people need more support, and I am sure UNHCR has a role helping them to receive that support," Mtesa said.

Currently made up of 72 member states, the ExCom meets in Geneva annually to review and approve the agency's programmes and budget, advise on international protection and discuss a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. ExCom's standing committee meets several times each year to carry on ExCom's work between plenary sessions.

By Gustavo Valdivieso
in Bogota, Colombia