The armed conflict in Colombia causes continued forced displacement into neighboring countries. Ecuador is the country receiving the highest number of Colombian refugees. By the end of 2013, 135 5881 people were registered inEcuador by UNHCR, with an average of 1000 new claims each month. In Panama, UNHCR estimates that 18 2972 people are living in a refugee like situations mostly in urban areas or marginalized suburbs.
However the rate of recognition of refugee status for Colombian asylum seekers is generally low in the region. This low rate of recognition leaves most of people in need of international protection (PNIP) without regular status and documentation in those countries generating important implications and barriers for access to land.
Those fleeing the conflict in Colombia arrive into an already challenging housing and land situation in the neighboring countries. Although the majority of refugees and asylum seekers arrive in urban areas, UNHCR estimates that in Ecuador for example up to 40 per cent reside in isolated regions along the northern border, with limited access to basic services and poor infrastructure
Legal framework for refugees’ and PNIP HLP rights
In terms of legal support for land rights, the legal framework in the region is more protective of refugees’ rights that many other regions. The constitutions of Ecuador and Panama both have strong guarantees of equality between nationals and others and prohibit discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, place of birth or migratory status (Ecuador). This demonstrates a higher level of protection than is included in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which recognizes the possibility of differential treatment between nationals and non-nationals.
Challenges for displaced women
Through its research conducted between 2012-2014 on Colombian women ́s housing, land and property rights in Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela, NRC has identified the main challenges facing Colombian women refugees and persons in need of international protection (PNIP). Colombian women fleeing the conflict face a range of social, psychological, cultural and economic difficulties in exercising their housing, land and property (HLP) rights in exile, despite the strong regional and national legal guarantees. This affects their access to many other rights and services; not least their ability to find a lasting solution for their displacement.
In Ecuador stereotypes about Colombian women result in discrimination and rejection by potential landlords when they seek to rent accommodation. Due to high rental costs and scarce economic resources, most refugees relocate to poor neighbourhoods where there are only basic services and minimum provisions for security available. However a recent constitutional court decision has given hope to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, giving them a better chance to enjoy international protection from the Ecuadorian state, including access to housing.
In Panama, many Colombian refugees arrive in the main cities where an overall housing shortage has driven up the costs of rent, making it impossible for many to afford. They end up living in sub-standard accommodation in informal settlements and on the outskirts of town, far from jobs and other amenities. In addition, the study found that displaced Colombian women confront domestic violence in their daily lives. Their employment prospects, mostly in the informal economy, are precarious and do not include social security.
Since 2013 NRC has developed programs with the specific aim of supporting Colombian refugee women ́s housing, land and property rights in these countries. For more information please see NRC Colombia and the NRC Colombia video showing the challenges for women displaced inside the country.