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Fr. Fernando Ponce Leon, S.J.

(Washington, D.C.) November 28, 2011 — "We are perceiving that the Colombian conflict is becoming forgotten," said Fr. Fernando Ponce Leon, S.J., during a recent visit to Washington, D.C. Fr. Fernando is the National Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Ecuador, and was in Washington for meetings to refresh the Mexico Plan of Action, a framework for durable solutions for the Colombian refugee crisis.

The Mexico Plan of Action, adopted by 20 governments, is a continent-wide framework for the protection of displaced people. By adopting the Plan, governments have committed themselves to strengthening refugee protection and implementing an integrated approach to durable solutions.

The Plan has three main pillars for finding durable solutions: Borders of Solidarity; Cities of Solidarity; and Resettlement in Solidarity. The first pillar strives to assist both refugees and local host communities in border areas to coexist. The second pillar caters to the vast majority of displaced people living in urban areas. This pillar advocates local integration through self-reliance by providing job placements, vocational training, community-based childcare centers and microcredit schemes. The third pillar seeks the promotion of regional resettlement, emphasizing responsibility sharing and durable solutions for vulnerable Colombian refugees in Ecuador and elsewhere by resettling them in other countries in the continent.

"JRS in Ecuador focuses on three lines of action."

"We are very concerned because the refugees in Ecuador are going through many challenges which are not easy to meet. Ecuador is setting new requirements for refugees that are much more cumbersome than in years past. Refugees are much more vulnerable right now," said Fr. Fernando.

The government of Ecuador has taken significant steps to recognize 55,000 Colombian refugees, improve its outreach to refugee communities, and to enshrine a refugee rights framework into domestic law. Nonetheless, many refugees still lack effective access to the most basic rights, and Colombian refugees too often find that their physical security is threatened within Ecuador’s borders. 

In addition the Ecuadorian government has put in place a new “pre-admission” procedure in the last year which has resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of refugees processed and granted international protection. In 2010, before the new pre-admissions procedure was implemented, 33.5% of persons who solicited refugee status through the normal procedures were granted recognition. In 2011, only 11% of applicants received refugee recognition from the Ecuadorian government.  While growing numbers of persons are applying for asylum in Ecuador, fewer cases are being processed on a monthly basis, resulting in a growing backlog and collapsing protection space. 

Aside from legal assistance and recognition, improved access to employment, housing, healthcare and education are central to ensuring the successful integration of Colombian refugees in Ecuador. To help achieve such access, Jesuit Refugee Service compliments robust legal services with educational advocacy work and support for refugee and host-community organizations focused on improving the conditions of both populations.

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