Praying with Refugees from Colombia

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(Caracas) January 1, 2012 — When Ana* and José* arrived in Venezuela, they were lost. Although the cultural norms were similar to their own, they could feel there were still marked differences.

Some of their friends found them work for a few months. Ana and Jose quickly realized they could receive protection and support if they applied for refugee status with the National Commission for Refugees (CNR). They did; but their applications were refused.

"They said there wasn't sufficient proof because there was conflict throughout Colombia: generalized violence,” said José.

How can you not justify fleeing this type of violence? "… so much danger at one time … bombs, gunfire, child recruitment, the paramilitaries and your own government persecuting you," said José.

In the letters of refusal the CNR describes the circumstances referred to by applicants as amounting to generalized violence, which is not included in the refugee definition in article five of the asylum act (LORRAA). As generalized violence is not cited in the refugee definition in the LORRAA, applications of this nature may be refused regardless of the circumstances presented and without an in-depth assessment of the merits of the application.

"The country is at war. But if you are being brought to prison, you're frightened; if your children are being recruited by the guerrillas, you're frightened. If only one of these things happens it's not so bad, but four or five together is much worse," explained José.

The climate of fear in Colombia caused by generalized violence makes people genuinely afraid; so they flee seeking protection in a neighboring country.

Reflections for prayer Ana's and José's experience is typical of that told by thousands of Colombian women and men forced to cross the border to find protection. Their flight marks the beginning of a long and difficult journey to find peace and dignity. Their lack of knowledge about refugee rights reduces the likelihood their applications will be accepted by their host countries.

These men and women continue struggling in their new country, working and trying to rebuild their lives. The risk is that they will exhaust the administrative procedures and be detained, or returned to their country of origin where their safety cannot be guaranteed.

"Yeah, they believe we got afraid and came here after hearing a few gunshots… it's one thing to talk about it and another to have personally experienced such horrible things,” said Ana.

We pray that these families find strength, and that states take the necessary steps to guarantee a more inclusive world, where refugees can live with dignity.

Minerva Vitti, Communications and Advocacy Officer, JRS Latin America and the Caribbean

*The names in this article have been changed for security reasons