Each year, thousands of Colombians, especially those living in rural areas, are forced to flee to Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela to escape the violence perpetuated by guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and the Colombian army. Ecuador already has the largest refugee population in Latin America and hundreds of additional persecuted Colombians continue to cross the border every month.
The integration of Colombian refugees into the societies of the countries where they flee has been a constant challenge. Despite an ongoing stream of Columbians seeking refuge from the continuing violence in their country, many still struggle to rebuild their lives in countries that keep them on the margins of society. Many individuals who are recognized under international law as refugees are denied the legal protection status in the countries that host them. HIAS advocates for better refugee policies in host countries and for increased resettlement opportunities in the United States.
Because some families in host countries share the same day-to-day challenges and vulnerabilities as the refugee families, HIAS facilitates community development that promotes integration of refugee and host populations.
HIAS provides individual and group therapy for children, couples, and families to help them confront the trauma of living in a country plagued by violence and flight and to address the daily stresses of life as a refugee. A large percentage of Colombian refugees are women who were forced to flee when their husbands were killed or recruited into the militias. HIAS is particularly noted for our work preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence and for preventing exploitation of vulnerable refugees in their host communities.
Self-sufficiency is crucial to helping people overcome trauma and regain their dignity. HIAS’ livelihood programs provide vocational training, employment assistance, and offer grants for refugees to build small businesses. HIAS’ advocacy in Ecuador has recently led to the largest bank offering accounts and credit to refugees for the first time.
While HIAS distributes food to refugees in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme and provides cash for basic needs to newly arrived refugees, most ultimately want to work and rebuild their lives. Helping refugees to establish livelihoods gives them the opportunity to heal, stabilize, and integrate.