Colombians escape violence to begin news lives in Ecuador; Many arrive penniless and hungry

Sep 3, 2018

With all the headlines about the thousands of Venezuelan refugees entering Ecuador, It is easy to overlook the continuing stream of Colombians arriving in the country. Already home to more than 60,000 Colombians who escaped the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s, the new arrivals are leaving behind a new wave of violence that has uprooted tens of thousands.

Colombian refugees in Quito.

In early August, Luis and Carla Chavez decided to flee their home in southern Colombia with their son, Jose, when Luis was threatened with violence by an illegal, armed group. They left behind their extended family and Luis’ small motorcycle repair shop. “You can pay me with your money or your life,” a man from the armed group responded when Luis told him that he could not afford the monthly “protection” fee demanded by the group.

When the group murdered his best friend who could also not afford to pay, Luis knew that the threat was serious. “Everything has been very difficult. We’ve had to start our lives from nothing,” says Carla.

The family is starting over in Ecuador, with help from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and the UN World Food Program (WFP).

Expecting a new child and only carrying a bag of clothes and two blankets, the family relies on emergency food vouchers provided by WFP to purchase local, nutritious foods that they would otherwise be unable to afford.

When they first arrived in Quito, the family was only able to afford salchipapas, a local fast food snack consisting of french fries served with hotdogs. Now, Luis and Carla use WFP’s food vouchers to buy fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins. By purchasing products from local Ecuadorian shopkeepers, producers and farmers, the program also supports the Ecuadorian economy. “The vouchers are essential for use to be able to eat well,” Luis reports.

In addition to food vouchers, WFP provides food-insecure individuals with training on nutrition, dietary diversity, and preparation of nutritious, local foods that are not familiar to Colombians.

With more than 62,000 recognized refugees sheltering in the country, Ecuador hosts the largest population of registered refugees and asylum seekers in Latin America. Most refugees in Ecuador are Colombians fleeing ongoing violence by armed groups.

Ecuador is also hosting nearly 150,000 Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis in Venezuela. With USAID support, WFP provides emergency food vouchers to both groups in addition to food-insecure Ecuadorian host communities.

Despite the hardships that they have experienced, Luis and Carla remain thankful for the support that they receive from WFP and optimistic about their future together.

To date in 2018, USAID’s support to WFP has provided emergency food assistance to more than 8,500 food-insecure Colombians, Venezuelans and Ecuadorian host community members in Ecuador. Since fiscal year 2017, USAID has contributed nearly $4 million to support critical emergency food assistance programs in the country.

Most Colombian refugees have settled in Ecuador’s major cities, including Quito with about 10,000, Guayaquil, 6,000, Santo Domingo, 5,750, Cuenca, 4,000, Esmeraldas, 3,500, and Riobamba, 2,000.

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