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Vista On-Line

February 8, 2003 edition

Vol.2, Issue 2

Dear Friends and Listeners,

We are writing to you with some urgency due to the desperate predicament of a group of around 1,000 Colombian refugees here in Costa Rica, forced to flee their country because of the terrible war that Colombia is experiencing. Unfortunately, the problems many were running from have followed them.

On 31st December we celebrated the New Year on the street outside the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose in solidarity with Colombian refugees who are so afraid for their lives that they have been forced to camp on the international ground outside the court for their own protection. Many have been pursued through three or four countries before coming to Costa Rica by Colombian paramilitaries, guerilla groups and agents of the Colombian army. They hoped that they would finally find some protection here because of Costa Rica's reputation and comparatively good human rights record. However, they have experienced more of the same.

In addition to the persecution they have suffered from these groups operating illegally within Costa Rica, they have suffered discrimination from Costa Rican institutions and authorities, even those who have been accepted as refugees have been denied the right to health care, housing and recognition of their professional qualifications. We spoke to a 67 year old grandmother who has been here for years and has never been given the right to health care. We spoke to women who say that when they apply for jobs or go to appointments to get their qualifications recognized so that the can work, they have been told "You are Colombian, there is nothing for you here. Why don't you just go into prostitution?" We spoke to a man who is a qualified accountant and told us "I am tired of sending out resumes and application forms. I have been to every institution in the land trying to get my qualifications recognized. I have no hope of gaining decent employment." He now makes bracelets and sells them on the street to survive.

Costa Rica has signed up to many different conventions and international agreements regarding the treatment and human rights of refugees in their country. The Association for the Defense of the Human Rights of Colombian Refugees (Asociacion para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos del Colombiano Refugiado) composed of the people demonstrating for these past two months outside the court, accuses the Costa Rican government of failing to recognize the rights that are afforded them by the Geneva Protocol, the Cartagena Protocol and the El Salvador Protocol. They accuse the UN High Commission for Refugees (based here in San Jose) of failing to ensure that they are protected and for failing to ensure that their rights as refugees in Costa Rica are upheld in terms of the right to work, the right to a home and access to health care. They accuse them of failing to distribute the funds allocated to refugees in Costa Rica. This is a UN body which is allocated funds specifically to ensure the well being of refugees!

We have returned to speak with, monitor, support and report on the situation of this group of  Colombian refugees on different occasions since New Year and we have been saddened to see that the situation of our friends, their families and their children has not improved.

Following a fire bomb attack on them outside the court this past week, they felt they had to take some drastic action to draw attention to their plight and to ask that the Costa Rican government protect them or to at least send them to another country where they will receive protection.

They notified us that they planned to peacefully enter and occupy the Inter American Court of Human Rights on Monday 3rd February. At 5pm we witnessed them entering the court and observed the arrival of the Costa Rican police within a few moments. The scene was emotional, as there were children present, their parents holding them before the police and pleading with them in tears to protect them and explaining to them why they had felt forced to take this action. The police informed them that they were "disrespecting Costa Rican law" and that if they failed to leave the premises within five minutes, they would all betaken to the Immigration authority and those without papers would be deported. They also threatened to remove them by force if they failed to move voluntarily.

The Colombian refugees agreed reluctantly that they would leave the area peacefully and disperse on the condition that there would be no arrests. They were tearful and disappointed that their plan had failed in what they had hoped to achieve and that so many of their group had been too afraid to turn up and join the protest. There were Colombians hanging around nearby but too afraid to join in. We felt that our presence may well have been critical in the way that the police eventually decided to handle the situation as it turned out, without force. But we wonder what may become of our friends when we are not able to be there.

We felt very sad to see not only that they had been driven to such desperate measures but that they had felt that they had not achieved anything that day. It hurts us that they are living in fear of their lives, that they are not enjoying the same rights and privileges as we do in this country, that they are the subject of abuse and racism on a daily basis, that they are afraid for their lives. If they do not have the same human rights as we do as foreigners in this country, if they are not respected and allowed their dignity and the opportunity to contribute to this society, then we all lose something. We cannot accept that this situation be allowed to continue.

Through us, The Association for the Defense of the Human Rights of Colombian Refugees asks you to please hear their plea and to take a few moments to take some action to support them. The most valuable thing you can do to help them is support their cause through emailing:

Ruud Lubbers, cl Alto Comisionado para los Refugiados: lubbers@unhcr.ch 

Mr Lubbers is the boss of Andres Ramírez, who is in charge of UN High Commission for Refugees in Costa Rica. The organization accuses Mr Ramirez of failing to put into action the rights he is supposed to oversee and of misinforming the public about their organization and about what they are saying about the real situation of refugees here in Costa Rica. Please express your concerns for the well-being and safety of Colombian refugees in Costa Rica and request that the UN High Commission play its part in protecting them and ensuring that their rights under the conventions are upheld.

It is also very important to email hanlan@unhcr.ch asking that the Bureau of the Americas investigate and evaluate the administration and allocation of monies intended for refugees by the Costa Rican UN High Commission for Refugees office and the "programs" that it is supposed to be running to assist refugees.

If you would like more information, please email the Association for the Defence of the Human Rights of Colombian Refugees (Asociacion para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos del Colombiano Refugiado) at asdehcor@yahoo.es 

You can email in English or in Spanish. DON'T think that you can't make a difference here. International attention and publicity is a powerful tool and can achieve a lot. Please take a few moments to email, you could help change lives, or even save them. We will update you on events.

In peace and in the hope that the rights of all be respected, from the staff at Radio For Peace International.

Radio For Peace International

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