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Full Frame: Searching for peace in Ecuador

A photographer journeys to the Ecuadorian border where thousands of Colombians have sought refuge.

Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

The refugee crisis spawned by ongoing conflict in Colombia has left millions displaced. Unable to stay in their home country, hundreds of thousands have made their way across the border to Ecuador. But these refugees often face tremendous difficulty integrating into society.

Rural farmers and families are frequently intimidated by guerrilla and paramilitary groups who send them fleeing due to death threats, forced recruitment, the demand of unaffordable taxes, persecution for political organizing, land seizures and intolerable violence in their villages and towns. Because these groups are highly organized and have sophisticated intelligence networks, one move is often not enough.

As violence has been pushed south into the jungles near the border, more and more displaced Colombians have sought refuge in Ecuador, a country known to have open policies concerning asylum and now home to the greatest number of refugees in the Western Hemisphere. Though the nation claims 22,000 registered refugees, the government and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimate that there is a much larger “invisible population” that could number 135,000 or more.

 A refugee from Colombia.
(Caroline Bennett/GlobalPost)

There are no refugee camps in Ecuador; all over the country refugees live side-by-side with the Ecuadorean people. The vast majority of refugees have little more stability than they did in Colombia. While the nation is taking steps to improve the process of granting official refugee status, the majority are undocumented, often forcing them into the informal sector. Because many have not been able to attain legal status, they live in a state of invisibility and fear, unable to denounce employers who rob them and a system that denies them basic rights. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, oftentimes forced to pay off police to prevent being deported back to a country where they are being pursued or forced to the streets.

About the photographer:

Caroline Bennett is a freelance photographer and multimedia journalist based in Latin America, where she has worked on a variety of assignments and projects throughout the region for local and international media, travel publications, NGOs, the United Nations and private clients. She has received several grants and awards to undertake projects on a variety of human themes around the globe, is a 2006 Eddie Adams alum, recently won second in the 2009 BOP Enterprise Picture Story category for her Born Behind Bars story and was recognized in the 20th annual Women in Photojournalism juried exhibition. She currently resides on a mountainside in Quito, Ecuador, where she is pursuing a long-term project on the Ecuador/Colombia border.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/full-frame/091124/colombian-refugees-ecuador