Colombia's Ordeal Called the 'Direst Humanitarian Conflict'

2 American Bishops Fault U.S.-backed Plans

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Two U.S.-backed initiatives have aggravated the decades-old strife in Colombia, «the direst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere,» say bishops who recently traveled there.

Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Migration Committee, and committee member Auxiliary Bishop John Manz of Chicago traveled through Colombia and Ecuador to see the plight of Colombians displaced from their homes because of the ongoing conflict. The two visited the region May 4-11.

«Since 1985, nearly 3 million Colombians have been displaced by the civil war,» the bishops said in a joint statement released Wednesday. The situation, they said, «has been exacerbated under the U.S.-supported Plan Colombia initiated in 2000 and followed by the U.S. Andean Regional Initiative.»

These initiatives, with their strong anti-narcotics emphasis, have resulted in driving increasing numbers of farmers and others from their homes to escape the fumigation efforts, say the bishops. Some estimates place the number of those displaced from their homes in 2002 at over 400,000. More than 37,000 fled to Ecuador alone.

In addition, expanded U.S. military aid in Colombia has undermined the human rights certification process, the prelates say.

Bishops Wenski and Manz offered four major recommendations to ease the plight of Colombian refugees and internally displaced, namely:

— resettlement should be made a more viable option for Colombians. The United Nations and the U.S. government should make more available resettlement in the United States as a viable option for Colombians in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

— in-country processing should be considered for special groups within Colombia. Emergency cases of Colombians who are at risk there should be considered within Colombia.

— temporary protected status (TPS) should be granted Colombians in the United States, until the conflict in their homeland is over.

— U.S. assistance to the internally displaced and refugees should be increased. Only 20% of U.S. assistance to Colombia is targeted for the humanitarian crisis, the rest earmarked for military aid.

The full text of the statement is at www.usccb.org/mrs/wenski060303.htm.

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