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Voices: Columbian Refugees in Ecuador

Nearly 50 years of conflict & war
Drugs and money fuel 48-year war that has left two countries'
citizen impoverished, struggling to survive 

By Levi Butts

picture

Poverty runs rampant now in Ecuador as the drug trade forces
more and more people from their home country and inside the
borders of Ecuador. Sights like this rundown fence and building
are commonplace.

The conflict is between the Colombian government, left- ist peasant-based guerilla groups, like Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), and right- wing paramilitary groups like Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). The 48-year conflict has resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people and the displacement of 4 million men, women, and chil- dren.

Colombians face, on a daily basis, emotional, economic and social hardships, extortion, drug-related violence and slave labor, sex trafficking and forced military enlistment.

Human rights violations and crimes against humanity are commonplace among all groups of combatants.

The conflict is financed, primar- ily, by the narcotics industry. The world hears about Colombians and they think, "cocaine." They think "marijuana." They think about Scarface-like Al Pacinos running around in a distant and isolated jungle hiding from Rambo. Too few global citizens realize the true crimes being committed in Colombia.

The proliferation, distribution and sale of narcotics are not the true crimes of Colombia. The real crimes being committed in Colombia are crimes against humanity. The real crimes include human trafficking, mass murder, extortion, torture, forced prostitution, kidnapping, mutilation and the forced par- ticipation in these acts.

The narcotics industry in Colombia is a business to fund a civil war that has been destroy- ing the lives of Colombians since 1964. Of the potential 4 million Colombian refugees in the world, most have fled their home nation to find shelter, to find security and, hopefully, to start new lives in Ecuador.

Quito and Ibarra are home to a high percentage of the more than 130,000 Colombian refu- gees officially seeking asylum in Ecuador.

Columbian Civil War
Quick Numbers
1964
The year in which the war first
got underway
200,000
Estimated number of deaths on
both sides since the war's start
4,000,000
The number of men, women, and
children displaced by the war
$4,000,000
The price for a young man purchased
as a soldier according to some in
Columbia
$35,000,000
The amount of American money
spent on the war in 2002 alone

Colombians, fleeing the cartel- related violence in their home country, come to Ecuador daily.

Men, women and children leave their homes hoping to escape the life-threatening cir- cumstances they face.

In many cases, just crossing the border into Ecuador is not enough. Agents and mercenar- ies from FARC, the Colombian government and other paramili- tary groups, follow the refugees into Ecuador.

Once there, they continue to extort money from them, force their involvement in cartel- related activities and, in many cases, kill and mutilate them as examples to other Colombians trying to flee the violence.

Many Colombians settle in Ibarra, while others continue to flee further south to Quito.

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and many Colombians feel that it is populated and secure enough for them to blend in and make new lives for them- selves. Once in Quito and Ibarra, Colombians try to find work.

Because many refugees flee their homes with nothing and do not have the resources or the time or are afraid to wait for proper refugee documentation, they arrive in Quito and other Ecuadorian cities as mere shad- ows in the system.

As such, they are not able to work legally, eligible for any assistance, police protection or legal defense.

Many Colombians all across Ecuador are abused and taken advantage of by citizens, sex workers, and employers and in some cases by police officers.

The Colombian Civil war and the narcotics war that followed has severely damaged the sta- bility and world perception of Colombia. Even as the conflict spills into other parts of the world and the violence rages, there is still hope.

Colombian refugees, in awe- inspiring feats of fortitude and determination, feel hopeful for themselves and their country.

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