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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ecuador, UNHCR open refugee office on border with Colombia

QUITO, June 20 (Xinhua) -- The Ecuadorian government, along with a delegation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), opened a refugee office Friday in Nueva Loja, a city bordering Colombia.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador said the office will help foreigners, especially displaced Colombians, seek safety and refuge.

Salvador said the refugee office opened in the capital of Scumbios province, in the Amazon region on World Refugee Day.

"Ecuador respects human rights, therefore, we welcome people forced to leave their homeland to a safe and calm life," she said.

Salvador added that 97 percent of the refugees in the country are Colombians and the office expects to help some 50,000 foreigners seek refuge in Ecuador up to June 2009.

This new office will open on July 1 and more offices are expected to be opened to provide assistance to foreigners in other border provinces, Salvador added.

Ecuador has given refugee status to 18,012 people between the year 2000 and May 2008, making the country the one that has welcomed the largest number of refugees in Latin America.

According to data from the UNHCR, there are some 180,000 displaced people in Ecuador due to the violence in Colombia.

Marta Juarez, UNHCR representative in Ecuador said many refugees face difficulties and shortages when they arrive in Ecuador. Therefore, she emphasized the importance of a new office to speed up and improve assistance to foreigners.

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