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Colombian Refugees Find Hope among the Flower Beds

An 18-month program sponsored by USAID and the Colombian Association of Flower Growers (Asocolflores) trains displaced Colombians to become floriculture technicians and managers, bringing hope to this highly afflicted sector of the population.

More than an estimated three million Colombians are displaced due to the ongoing struggle between illegal armed groups and the government for control over strategic and economically valuable regions of the country. One such region is the southwestern province of Nariño, which shares borders with the Pacific Ocean and Ecuador.

On the maps of Colombia provided by the National Antipersonnel Landmine Observatory and included along with Shared Responsibility’s May 2, 2006 featured story, Nariño stands out as one of the provinces with the highest density of coca crops. Consequently, it is also plagued by mines, violence and high numbers of displaced people. According to figures presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR) more than 4,000 people have fled Nariño in just 2006, most of whom are indigenous, seeking to avoid violent combat taking place between illegal armed groups (who fund their violent activities through drug trafficking) and the government.

Most recently 1,700 of Nariño’s citizens have fled to the city of Sánchez, where national and international organization have set up camp to try and meet the humanitarian needs of this new group of refugees. Concerns remain, however, for their well-being and for their safety.

Fortunately, not all news is bad.

As the indigenous people of Nariño flee the violence sparked by illegal guerilla groups, other displaced Colombians are finding new hope by learning all about the flower business, a booming Colombian industry. Participants are taught, over a period of a year and a half, about business management and the technical aspects of growing flowers, while receiving a stipend, housing and access to psychological experts who can help them with the trauma of displacement. Graduates of the program have been able to find jobs in private flower-growing companies, making a good living for themselves. And, some have even started flower businesses of their own.

In addition to gaining a new lease on life, trainees provide much-needed expertise to a growing industry in need of skilled laborers. Over the past decade, Colombia\'s flower industry has become a world-class industry, second in production only to Holland\'s.

The program, jointly managed by USAID and Asocolflores, is being used as a model for other programs seeking to assimilate displaced people back into the general population. Hopefully, the displaced people of Nariño will also soon be given a similar chance to smell the roses once again. Posted by Guest at 2:24 PM on Tuesday, 20 June 2006

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