A home without fear
In Latin America, there's a silent refugee crisis. Every year, thousands of Colombians flood over the border to neighbouring Ecuador to escape the harsh realities of civil war in their homeland.
One day, Gerardo* found himself facing an agonising choice: he could either work for Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas delivering packages or leave town, or - if he chose to stay - end up dead.
As a result, Gerardo, along with his wife and three children, joined the thousands of Colombians who seek refuge in Ecuador every year after fleeing the long-running civil conflict at home.
“Since the year 2000, around 600,000 Colombians have come to live in Ecuador,” Sr. Janete Ferreira from Caritas Ecuador and focal point on migration and trafficking in the Latin American region. “Of these, 40 percent are people who have fled Colombia’s violence.”
Even though life in another country seems like the only option at times, it’s a very difficult choice for Colombians. Maria* another Colombian refugee in Ecuador, knows just how difficult.
“As refugees, we knew the job situation in Ecuador wasn’t easy, but it’s more difficult to live with the fear of being killed, stepping on a landmine or being kidnapped in Colombia,” she says.
Rosalita*, who also left Colombia says she cried with sadness at the thought of having to start her life from scratch in a new country, but she had to do it as life in Colombia was just too difficult for her children.
“At the beginning, there were 16 of us living in a house with two rooms,” she says. “I slept on the floor with my children and I felt so angry that some of the comforts that they had in Colombia, they wouldn’t have here.”
Meanwhile, Gerardo had to wait one and a half years to be recognised as a refugee in Ecuador. During that time he couldn’t work and if he did try to work he often wasn’t paid and was threatened with deportation.
While Gerardo and his family were waiting for their application to be processed, he was hounded by the police, he was not given a place to live, he was not allowed to rent because he was Colombian and his children couldn’t got go to school.
Once they were granted refugee status, the police stopped bothering them, but finding a job and somewhere to live, and ensuring his children received an education didn’t get any easier.
Sr Ferreira says that the vulnerable position of refugees means they face a number of risks such as trafficking, abuse, exploitation and crime.
Caritas offers refugees material, social, legal and psychological assistance. It advocates on a local and national level to promote and protect the rights of immigrants and well as educating about the need to protect them. It also coordinates integration initiatives.
Gerardo has overcome some of the difficulties of his displacement by setting up a fruit selling business with some other Colombians so he can earn some money. But, like many of the refugees who have left their whole lives behind in another country, what he would really like is to go home.
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NEWSCOATNET statement HRC 2010Report on prevention of human traffickingCOATNET statement for the European Antitrday