CHURCH WORLD SERVICE DELIVERS RELIEF AS THOUSANDS OF AFRO-COLOMBIANS FLEE VIOLENCE IN REMOTE RURAL AREAS
NGO Urges Congressional Action to Provide Emergency Aid, Protect Human Rights
EDITORS NOTE: Interviews by arrangement with CWS representatives in Colombia and in Washington.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Fri April 13, 2007 - International humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) announced today that it has delivered initial emergency aid and has issued a U.S. fundraising appeal to assist the more than 6,000 Afro-Colombians displaced over the last two weeks in the remote rural area of Rio Tapaje, in the southern Colombian department (province) of NariÃo. The uprooted Afro-Colombians are fleeing increased fighting further to the south between the Colombian army and an irregular armed group.
Church World Service is also calling for immediate congressional action to provide humanitarian assistance and protect the rights of Afro-Colombians in their homeland.
From its office in BogotÃ, on Tuesday (April 10) the agency reported
that Church World Service staff helped expedite delivery of a first shipment of rice, beans, salt and cooking oil, ten 1,000 liters water tanks, and recreational items for children. CWS Emergency Response Program Director Donna J. Derr said a team including agency staff monitored delivery of the supplies to affected families and conducted an assessment of further needs.
The conflict in NariÃo has been intense for over a year between the Colombian Naval Forces of the Pacific, paramilitaries and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), worsening the humanitarian crisis affecting Afro-Colombian communities along the Tapaje River in the municipality of El Charco, NariÃo. Major human rights and humanitarian violations are being reported.
CWSâs Derr says the current situation has limited the ability of residents to purchase uncontaminated food items, gas and medicines.
In a statement Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva said that during the past two weeks, more than 6,000 people took refuge in El Charco and La Tola, in the north of NariÃo. Local authorities opened schools and other public places to house the displaced.
âLocal authorities, the church and international organizations have joined their efforts to those of the government to provide food and medical attention,â said UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond. âD espite their work, there is a shortage of clean water and basic health supplies. Only one out of every 30 persons who arrived in El Charco last week has a mattress to sleep on."
As of Monday 3,000 were displaced in El Charco alone, but the figures are constantly changing, Redmond said. Several hundred families chose to return to their homes over the weekend, Redmond said, âdespite uncertainties about security conditions. They returned in boats provided by the local authorities. The rivers are the only means of transportation in this part of the country.â
The United States has provided financial aid to Colombia for the past six years to support aerial fumigation efforts and help the government fight guerrilla groups.
In February and March, six aerial fumigations intended to kill coca plants near the Colombia-Ecuador border destroyed crops grown for basic sustenance by the regionâs residents. Heavy fighting erupted and has continued since the last fumigation on March 30.
Colombia has the second largest population of internally displaced persons in the world -- over three million people, most of whom are indigenous people and Afro-Colombians. Armed conflict among the Colombian military, rightwing paramilitaries and leftwing guerillas-all know for human rights violations-- has ravaged the country for four decades. Church World Service has worked in the region since 2004, with support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). CWS funds and facilitates food security and wome nâs programs through the local grassroots network Asociacion de Mujeres Afro Colombianas por la Vida (AMAV-ASOM).
An estimated 13,000 Afro-Colombians live in the remote Rio Tapaje area. In the five communities where AMAV works, 47 percent of the people are children under 12, according to a February AMAV census.
This week, CWS is calling on Congress to:
Â Urge Colombian armed forces to respect the rights of Afro-Colombian communities and adhere to international humanitarian law
Â Urge the U.S. administration to work with the United Nations and international organizations to implement a humanitarian and human rights plan in the region that addresses the needs of Afro-Colombian rural and urban communities
Â Commit the U.S. to do all it can to ensure a safe, voluntary return and support for displaced families who wish to return to their territory and homes
Â Suspend fumigations programs in this area, which worsen the humanitarian crisis in the region by destroying subsistence crops, and redirect emergency humanitarian assistance funding to NariÃo.
Those wishing to support emergency relief for the regionâs displaced Afro-Colombians may send contributions to: Account #6755, P.O. Box 968 Elkhart, IN 46515; or make contributions online at http://www.churchworldservice.org or by credit card by calling: (800) 297-1516, ext. 222.
For more information, see:
Media Contacts: Lesley Crosson, CWS NY (212) 870-2676, email@example.com
Jan Dragin - 24/7- (781) 925 1526; firstname.lastname@example.org