HIAS provides full-service counseling, legal services, and humanitarian assistance for Colombian refugees fleeing to Ecuador and Venezuela and facilitates the resettlement and integration of refugees in Argentina and Uruguay.
HIAS Latin America provides technical oversight and supports the implementation of regional HIAS programs to assist Colombian refugees in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, which holds that Jews are responsible not only for creating a model society among themselves, but also for the welfare of society at large.
As part of the implementation of the Mexico Plan of Action, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and host governments in Latin America are committed to enhancing refugee protection by promoting self-sufficiency and local integration. HIAS assists Colombian refugees through psychosocial and humanitarian programs in Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The programs support refugees as they seek to re-establish their self-worth as individuals, family members, and members of a community - essential steps in achieving self-reliance.
The Latin America Regional Representative provides technical and policy support in the area, equipping HIAS with the capacity to support the migration, integration, and resource needs of Jewish communities throughout the region, and to extend protection to Jewish individuals and communities seeking migration information and assistance.
The HIAS Latin America office is the preeminent expert among Jewish organizations on immigration and resettlement issues throughout the continent. HIAS advises and consults in many events, meetings, and congresses held in Latin America among the leading Jewish organizations.
During the Argentine crisis in 2001, HIAS Latin America provided information and migration assistance to thousands of Jewish people who were interested in leaving Argentina and finding new homes in Jewish communities in other parts of the world. HIAS acted as liaison between the migrants and the communities planning to welcome them. With HIAS' support, hundreds of people migrated to countries such as Italy, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Spain, and Israel. Today, HIAS continues to advise Argentines and other Latin Americans on migration options.
HIAS, in cooperation with Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS), provides orientation and facilitates the migration process of Latin American Jews interested in living in Montreal and Winnipeg, Canada. So far, 273 people have migrated to those cities with the assistance of JIAS and HIAS.
Resettlement Program for Colombian Refugees in Argentina
Since Fall 2005, HIAS has coordinated a resettlement program in Argentina for Colombian refugees, working closely with the government of Argentina and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). HIAS has extensive experience with resettlement and a close familiarity with the Colombian refugee population due to its programs in Ecuador.
The HIAS office in Argentina procures housing and establishes conditions for a proper welcome for the refugees. Upon arrival, refugees are met by HIAS staff, shown their accommodations, and given an orientation to basic services and the local culture. The legal documentation that allows them to stay and work in Argentina is issued immediately by the Argentine authorities. Adults are informed about job market rules and work with the Jewish Argentina Mutual Association (AMIA) Labor Bureau to identify opportunities. In every city, refugee families are assisted by a teacher, a social worker, and a psychologist to facilitate a smoother integration process.
Already, 101 refugees have been resettled in Argentina. They are in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Rosario. All children are enrolled in school, and the majority of adults have integrated into the job market.
As a result of the decades-old Colombian conflict, more than 250,000 Colombians have entered Ecuador seeking refuge, and hundreds more continue to cross the border every month.
Since 2000, 64,471 Colombians have formally registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; however, tens of thousands more have not availed themselves of the protection assistance available to them from the United Nations or local authorities.
With the aim of supporting refugees and asylum seekers to move forward with their lives in their Ecuadorian host communities or ultimate resettlement destination, HIAS, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) runs or manages the following programs:
- Psychosocial Assistance Program
- Center for Information and Orientation
- Humanitarian Assistance Program
- Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) Program
In 2007, 189 adults became literate thanks to the training received in literacy workshops in Lago Agrio, Ecuador. Beyond providing fundamental skills to the refugees, the workshop becomes a therapeutic space where they interact with others, share problems, and find new solutions.
- In 2007, HIAS and the Center for Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners in Brussels agreed that HIAS provide orientation for Ecuadorians who once migrated to Belgium and have returned to Ecuador. Staff of the Psychosocial Program assists in the reintegration of these Ecuadorians to their home country.
- Volunteers from Italy’s Federazione Organismi Cristiani di Servizio Internazionale Volontario participate in HIAS programs in a variety of ways. For example they work in the children’s corners, participate in special missions, and collaborate regarding distribution of food and hygiene kits.
Read their stories
In August 2011, HIAS Ecuador published “Memories and Testimonies,” a book of testimonies written by Colombian refugees living in Ecuador.
HIAS hopes the book will contribute to the story of Ecuador’s response to the ongoing crisis in Colombia and will aid in the empowerment of those who have suffered. Certainly, this book is an opportunity to give them back their voice.
The book was funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration and is endorsed by UNHCR, the House of Ecuadorian Culture, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Religion and the Jewish Community of Ecuador.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2007 there were 907 recognized refugees in Venezuela and 9,602 registered asylum seekers awaiting decisions by Venezuela’s National Commission for Refugees. About 200,000 people have not requested formal recognition as refugees. Most of the population do not have access to information on their rights or legal procedures. As a consequence, there are concerns of exploitation and discrimination.
Since 2007, HIAS has implemented a Psychosocial Assistance Program for Colombian Refugees in Venezuela, in coordination with UNHCR. The program began in Apure and Tachira Provinces with the aim of improving durable solution options for this refugee community, preparing individuals for integration into Venezuelan society or in their resettlement destinations, and creating the opportunity for a safe and voluntary return to Colombia when that is feasible.
The Program's specific objectives are:
- to provide direct psychological services to survivors of torture and trauma in individual and group settings;
- to offer therapeutic, community-based workshops, such as literacy training, recreation groups for children, and parenting workshops, that enhance the capacities of refugee survivors attempting to integrate into their communities;
- to increase the capacity of Venezuelan service providers and refugee agencies assisting this population through peer trainings by HIAS psychologists.
During the first year of services approximately 900 people received psychosocial attention.
The HIAS staff of psychologists has become an integral part of the protection regime in Venezuela. The staff has developed a multi-sector approach combining mental health services and a spectrum of essential information and material aid to promote local integration.
HIAS also promotes the development of local capacity by hiring and training local staff in the proven principles and methods of intervention and working closely with a network of local institutions and grassroots organizations.