Copyright 2002

[ June 11th 2002 ]

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, in Ecuador as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said on Monday stories told by Colombian refugees were the most violent she has heard in visits to refugee camps across the world.

The trip to Ecuador was her first visit to South America. "I've visited many different refugees in parts of the world, all of them have horrible stories, but I have never heard so many stories of every individual having such direct contact with violence," she told reporters in Quito. I've never heard any stories so brutal and so frightening like the stories I've heard here," said Jolie, who won an Oscar for her role as an unhinged teenager in "Girl, Interrupted."

Colombia's 38-year conflict among Marxist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the armed forces, claims an estimated 3,500 lives each year. Neighboring Ecuador has received 7,000 refugee status petitions from Colombians since the start of 2000, according to the UNHCR, which oversees shelters in jungle city Lago Agrio and Andean city Ibarra.

So far this year, Ecuador has received close to 2,300 Colombians seeking refugee status and expects to receive a similar number through the end of this year, UNHCR's regional representative Maria Virginia Trimarco said. But Trimarco said government statistics show a difference of 200,000 people between the number of Colombians who have entered and left Ecuador since 2000. UNHCR wants to open a new camp in Ecuador's Amazon jungle province Orellana to move refugees at least 31 miles from the border to protect them from possible retaliation attacks.

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