According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 6,000 Colombian asylum applications were received in the first half of 2001 in Europe and North America – more than twice the number received over the same period last year. “In these regions combined, Colombians now represent the twelfth largest nationality requesting asylum, up from a ranking of 21 for the first six months of 2000,” agency spokeswoman Millicent Mutuli told reporters in Geneva.Regionally, Costa Rica has seen a sharp increase in Colombian asylum applications this year, with over 2,500 new arrivals registered from January through June, compared to just over 300 during the same period in 2000. “The trend has continued in July and the first half of August, with a record high of over 1,000 new Colombian arrivals in less than six weeks,” Ms. Mutuli said.In response, UNHCR has dispatched a refugee status determination team to Costa Rica to help the Government deal with the growing backlog of asylum claims. The team is interviewing asylum seekers, reviewing pending cases, and providing advice, training and equipment to the Government. A similar UNHCR team has been working with the Government of Ecuador, which has received over 1,800 requests for asylum from Colombians so far this year, compared to less than 30 such requests in the first six months of 2000. Ms. Mutuli indicated that the problem might be more widespread than it appears. “The number of Colombians seeking asylum in the region and further abroad likely represents only a small percentage of those Colombians currently outside their country, many of whom may not have asked for asylum,” she said, adding, “hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Colombia itself.”Meanwhile, the UN Information Centre in Colombia today reported that Lars Franklin, who was serving as UN Resident Coordinator in the country, died of natural causes. A national of Sweden, Mr. Franklin was a career diplomat who worked for the UN for the last seven years, first in Guatemala and, since May 2001, in Colombia.
“These desperately hungry people have lost almost everything and are completely dependent on food aid,” said the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director in Mozambique, Angela van Rynbach. “Using a helicopter is our only alternative since key roads are still under water or have been washed away.”WFP said villagers, especially the 2,600 people in the Javane area, have been totally cut off for an entire week since strong winds and rain from Cyclone Japhet caused serious damage in central Mozambique. The cyclone over-flooded the Save River, which then overflowed affecting some 50,000 people in the coastal lowlands during the first week of March. In addition, floods in Guvuru district also hit 25,000 people. Many fled their villages in search of higher ground, while others were left dangerously isolated. On Sunday, a WFP helicopter made its first delivery of corn soya blend to stranded families. The South African-owned Mi-8 will move at least 200 tons of food into these isolated areas from WFP’s emergency base in Save town. The agency also helped transport some 2,500 people to higher ground and set up food kitchens and displacement camps. The torrential rain and flooding added an extra strain to a population already heavily burdened by the effects of the drought. In many cases, this will be the third or even fourth failed harvest in five years following floods in 1999 and 2000 and drought in 2002. Having exhausted traditional coping mechanisms in previous years, thousands of households will have no option but to rely on food aid. “Every year this region seems to be struck by natural disaster, leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable people to battle for survival,” said Ms. van Rynbach. “WFP will do its best to ensure that aid reaches all those in need but additional help will be required in the months ahead.”WFP is currently aiming to feed 650,000 drought-affected people in Gaza, Tete, Inhambane, Sofala, Manica and Maputo provinces. That number is expected to rise substantially in the coming year.