By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationlis Migration Advocacy Officer
In our side event on “Forgotten refugees in Latin America”, meaning mainly refugees from Colombia in the neighbouring countries, Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao from Caritas Colombia stressed that the Bishops Conference has engaged in the issue of internal displacement due to the confrontation between guerilla groups and governments since 1994. In the presence of the Colombian ambassador he said that there is a lot of advancement in the country but also challenges to address in this conflict. There is also the need to coordinate efforts among Caritas member organisations in the region who are affected by incoming refugees from Colombia.
Sr. Janete Ferreira from Caritas Ecuador and Focal point on migration and trafficking in the Latin American region, stressed that human rights violations happen also through military intervention in Colombia but also on the border between Ecuador and Colombia. One of the main issues that there is not really a refugee law, but a governmental decree in Ecuador. Moreover Colombians suffer discrimination as they are considered to be violent. The session was attended by the Ambassador of Colombia in Geneva.
The Caritas Internationalis reception in the evening was devoted to the internally displaced people in Colombia with Msgr. Hector Fabio, director of Caritas Colombia as the main speaker. He said: “Our problem are not the laws, we probably have the more advanced law on internal displacement in the world. It’s rather its implementation and in accompanying people in order to restore their dignity. Moreover there is the whole issue of how to compensate for lost property during the conflict. It is good for us to know that people outside our country are on our side.” The importance of the partnership between Caritas and UNHCR and the capacity of Caritas to reach out to remote areas through their church network was highlighted by Agostino Mulas, Senior Desk Officer of the Bureau of Americas on this occasion. The suffering of women was an often mentioned topic mentioned during all the sessions, so the Caritas statement was well placed.
Caritas briefing session
The overarching issue, “refugees in urban settings” seems still to be a territory to explore. In the related sessions, good examples of practice were presented, among them two Caritas ones (Caritas Equador and the Bangkok Migration Centre). Antonio Gutierrez in this final intervention highlighted that UNHCR itself does not yet know how to go about it and pointed to the High Commissioner Dialogue which will take place in December. The fact that a policy document announced several times by UNHCR has not yet seen the light of the day underpinned this statement.
From the interventions in the session on refugees in urban settings it became clear to me, that it is very difficult to come up with clear recommendations, because the situation changes very much, according to the size of the city, according to the political context and the amount of refugees in the city.
The practices presented stressed that it is necessary to really engage in coordinated strategies with different governmental and non – governmental actors if a change should be achieved, e.g. ensure that access of refugee children to school.
The Bangkok Migration Centre provided an interesting case study. It provides all sorts of training and support to refugees and has developed a revolving fund in which some of the revenue of the training go to finance further activities.
We might think of urban refugees as a static population, but in fact the contrary is the case as a study presented by ICMC (International Catholic Migration Commission) Jordan in the case of the Iraqi refugees. They move temporarily across borders to the safe heavens in Iraq to explore opportunities or preparing return, leaving their families in security in the country of asylum.
The closing speech of the High Commissioner
Antonio Gutierrez, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees drew a rather pessimistic picture for the future: Shrinking humanitarian space, shrinking of Asylum space and the impact of global trends (demographic pressure, economic crisis, urbanisation and climate change) on refugee issues. He also expressed his concern about rising xenophobia, e.g. in Europe, as the election to the European Parliament showed. UNHCR is doing its best to reduce its own administrative costs and instead strengthen partnerships with national NGO’s, according to the High Commissioner. Also within Caritas there were critical remarks about that. Implementing partner does not mean that NGO’s are just executing UNHCR’s ideas about what is best for refugees. It should rather be a partnership on equal footing.
The Caritas evaluation session
Everybody appreciated very much the coordination by Caritas Internationalis and was happy about the visibility of our network and as well about the opportunity to meet people from other Caritas. The briefing session next time, should be devoted to hone clear messages of common concern of Caritas. Moreover national member organisations should be encouraged to be part of the Annual Consultations. My message is very clear: Our intention cannot be to increase participation but to make participation more effective and related to the issues of concern!
Peter Verhaeghe from Caritas Europa said, that we should not see our participation as a one-off event. Things have evolved towards a more coordinated presence of Caritas, but we should already now start to think about what we want to achieve next year. It would be better for ensuring the participation of everyone if we could identify a theme that affects us all…
Three people deserve a special mention: Francesca Merico of the CI delegation in Geneva, who had prepared the setting for this meeting so well and Janete Ferreira and Msgr. Hector Fabio who with their intervention, their messages and presence deserved the praise of UNHCR.
Thanks to all Caritas people who were there and for their work! You’re all invited to comment on this.