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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Ecuador: supporting Colombians leaving war and abuse

The first step requires the most courage. After years of abuse and living in the reality of one of the world's longest conflicts, Sandra* had the courage to take the first step and leave Colombia to save herself and her children's future.

Alone, with no money or safety nets, she crossed into Ecuador and managed to reach an emergency shelter funded by the EU and operated by the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Here, vulnerable migrants receive hygiene and first aid kits, clothing, footwear, sim cards to call their families, and support to access medical services such as prescriptions or consultations.

In 2022, the EU allocated €6.2 million for UNHCR  to support vulnerable migrants and refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.

* Name changed for protection reasons.

2 faces in backlight
“I lived in constant fear. I had to flee,” says Sandra. “My children were exposed to drug use, gang fighting and forced recruitment.” Things were not better at home as she was subjected to physical and psychological abuse from her partner.
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
2 people sitting on a bed in a dimmed room.
“One day, when he went to work, we fled. We took a bus, then crossed the border. We were hungry and had no money. An Ecuadorian family hosted us for a few days. Then I had to beg to make it to the shelter,” recalls Sandra.
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
People at a table seen from behind. One boy standing up behind them.
She reached an emergency shelter for vulnerable people crossing the border between Ecuador and Colombia. Here, thanks to EU humanitarian funding, UNHCR provides them with protection and legal assistance.
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
Aerial view of a city.
At least 3,100 Colombians have sought protection in Ecuador in 2022. The country hosts around 74,000 refugees, one of the largest population in the Americas. 96% of them are Colombians fleeing their country’s internal conflict.
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
View from a corridor towards an open door leading into a room.
“Here they open their doors,” she says. “They give you accommodation, food, a toilet kit. When you are in need, not everyone helps you. Here they do it with all their heart, they know that you are going through a difficult situation.”
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
2 people sitting at a table, seen from behind. In the background a water fountain.
People can stay up to 10 days. In addition to accommodation and 3 daily meals, adults receive information on how to apply for asylum. At the same time, children can learn and play in dedicated safe spaces.
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)
Photo of Sonsoles Pérez, director of the Tarabita Foundation.
“Often, what people fleeing their country need the most is a place to sleep, a meal, and to feel safe,” says Sonsoles Pérez, director of the Tarabita Foundation in charge of the shelter. “This is what we provide here.”
© 2022, UNHCR (Photographer: D. Díaz)

Story and photos by UNHCR.
Publication date: 07/03/2023