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Reconocer (Recognize)

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Susan Krehbiel, Vice President for Protection and Programs, is on the road with Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) in Latin America. Susan is traveling to take a first-hand look at how Colombian refugees are living in Ecuador and Panama. As she was crossing over several boarders on her way to the border areas she sent us these thoughts:

Reconocer –
La Convención de 1951 requiere que los gobiernos reconozcan los refugiados dentro de su teritorio.   Esa palabra — Reconocer es importante.   Cuando viajo a una frontera recuerdo que el país de asilo no declara quien es un refugiado.  Una persona es refugiada por su propia situación y es la obligación del estado reconocerla.   Por lo tanto el primer paso es la identificación.  ¿Si eso no ocurre en el momento de cruzar la frontera entonces, como, donde y cuando? ¿Es facil distinguir los colombianos?  ¿Y cual es la actitud de los panameños hacia los refugiados colombianos dado la historia de Panamá quien se independizó de colombia?

The 1951 Convention requires that national governments recognize the refugees within their territory. This word recognize, is important. When I travel across a border I remember that the host country does not declare who is a refugee. A person becomes a refugee by their own situation and it is the obligation of the state to recognize them as such.  Therefore the first step is identification. If this does not occur as they flee across the border then when and where? Is it easy to distinguish the Colombians? And what attitude do the Panamanians have towards the Colombians given Panama’s struggle for independence from Colombia?

The 1951 Convention Susan references is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defined who was a refugee and what rights they were entitled to.  Susan raises an important point here by addressing the right refugees have to be recognized as people in need of protection. They are not defined as refugees by the nations that grant them asylum, but simply recognized as refugees, because their status was involuntarily established when they fled their countries due to credible fears.

This question of recognition speaks to the importance of Susan’s visit. She is traveling with Refugee Council USA to discover the unseen problems, displacement, and ill-treatment of Colombians in Panama and Ecuador. RCUSA is a coalition of U.S. non-governmental organizations focused on refugee protection. By providing advocacy on issues affecting displaced persons they help to establish protection.

According to RCUSA, “Colombians who cross by land into Panama seeking asylum continue to be confined by the government to the dangerous Southern jungle region, living in camp-like conditions but without the basic assistance and services usually provided to refugees living in such conditions. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Colombian refugees who live in Panama City lack legal recognition and live in constant threat of deportation without access to employment, health care, or education.”

It boils down to this: : If the people who fled violence and persecution are ignored or even further marginalized by their country of first asylum, it becomes nearly impossible to access the protections afforded to refugees by the 1951 Conventions. One of the first steps in establishing protection is to identify the specifics of their situation and document their conditions. By bringing back the stories of struggle that Colombian refugees experience every day in Panama and other countries, Susan, with RCUSA, will  lend credible testimony to the cause for effective  and durable protection strategies for Colombian refugees.

Please help us get this important information out. Leave a comment with your thoughts and get the conversation going. Join us on Twitter, or Facebook. Visit our homepage. Your participation is vital if we are to give voice to this vulnerable refugee group.

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