Conference May Lead to Better Refugee Aid

August 13, 2004

THREE pre-conferences and theupcoming commemoration of the 20thanniversary of the Cartagena Declarationon Refugees may provide internationalsolutions to the problem of rising numbersof refugees worldwide.The commemoration of the anniversary,scheduled to take place in Mexico inNovember, will be held in the context of agrowing concern for national security, thestruggle against terrorism, the tighteningof immigration controls and the rise ofhuman trafficking, according to the Officeof the United Nations High Commissionerfor Refugees (UNHCR).In celebration of the anniversary,UNHCR, the Inter-American Court ofHuman Rights, government and non-governmentalorganization representatives,among others, established three regionalconferences, the first of which began yesterdayin the Hotel Radisson in San Joséand ends today.REPRESENTATIVES of the region’sgovernments, ombudsman’s offices andcitizens of Central American countries,Mexico, Cuba and the DominicanRepublic are at the conference in San José.In this region, the UNHCR said in astatement, it is important to know how toidentify the specific needs of refugees whoare among the growing currents of immigrants.Another priority, the UNHCR said,is to profile the new populations and developa system of international cooperation.An estimated 21 million refugees arefound worldwide, according to representativesof UNHCR. Refugees are defined asthose who flee persecution and violence intheir own countries, whether from governments,organized crime or other groups as aresult of racism, nationalism or intoleranceof religious difference, among other causes.IN Costa Rica, more than 60% ofrefugees are Colombians who came hereseeking respite from the 40-year civil warand local gang-rule that pervades many ofthe country’s villages (TT, June 25).Participants of this week’s meeting inSan José are analyzing countries’ workwith refugees, legalities and terms ofacceptance, solutions for their economic,social and cultural integration, resettlement,and the voluntary change of citizenship,among other things. They are alsodiscussing the role of international cooperation.Of all Latin American countries,Costa Rica accepts the highest number ofrefugees, which makes internationalcooperation in assisting that foreign populationindispensable, according toGioconda Ubeda, director of the ForeignMinistry.In a statement from the ministry, shecited figures from 2002 showing that CostaRica admitted 3,790 of the 4,210 refugeeswho were received by Central America andMexico.Of the others, 260 were admitted intoMexico, 40 into Guatemala, 75 intoHonduras, 22 into Nicaragua and eight intoEl Salvador.OF the approximately 14,000 refugeesthat live in Costa Rica, 8,500 have enteredthe country since the second half of 2000,making Costa Rica the country that hasaccepted the most refugees in the past fouryears in all Latin America. Ecuador follows,with 7,472 refugees accepted in thesame period.Ubeda said Costa Rica also has thehighest rate of refugee acceptance in LatinAmerica, averaging 65% of applicants,which, she said, is probably also one of thehighest rates in the world.Many refugees see Costa Rica as acountry of peace, safety and calm, refugeseekers have expressed to Costa Ricanauthorities.

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