Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Colombia: Displaced people tell their stories

01-04-2004 Feature

Being displaced from one’s home is a traumatizing experience that leaves deep scars. We have sought here to document the kinds of story that ICRC delegates in Colombia hear frequently. These accounts bear witness to the causes and consequences of displacement, one of the many ways in which armed conflict affects the civilian population.

Stories

 For security reasons, all names have been changed and any information which might permit identification has been omitted.  
 
 

 
In 2003, the ICRC assisted over 110,000 victims of the armed conflict in Colombia in terms of food and other essential supplies, such as hygiene articles, kitchen utensils and mats.
 
20 years old and a widow  
 
" I haven’t smiled since the day a group of men came to the house asking for my husband. They took him outside to talk, then they shot him twice. After that I went to live with my parents in the village. "  
Left with nothing and no one

Graffiti

Left with nothing and no one
The same name
 
 
" On 29 November I left home with my daughter to go and visit my sister in El Vergel. We didn’t meet anyone on the way and the doors of all the houses were closed, which seemed strange... "  
 
" ...We were both wo unded – Roberto in the lung and me in the face. He’s the only friend I’ve got left now; neither of us wants to go back home. "
 
 
 
" ...I buried my family and set off for the city. I’m afraid to go home because if those men return they will surely kill me. "
 
 
 
" On 15 March 2002 my eldest son (...) met his father who was already on his way out to gather honey from the beehives. He always went to work early in the morning.Since that day we have neither seen nor heard of him. We have asked everyone, we’ve combed the area, we even organized a search party with lots of people (...)
 
  "I want to go home!" says displaced Colombian girl




" My name is Mileydi. I'm 10 years old. I used to live in Caldas with mama and my brother and sister. Papa left years ago, when I was little. "

Graffiti

 For security reasons, all names have been changed and any information which might permit identification has been omitted.  

    

 Graffiti  

    

 "That Friday we all met up at Andrés’ house – Alberto, Alfonso, Jesus, Roberto, Clara and me, the usual group. I’m the youngest at 15 while Roberto, 21, is the eldest.  
 
 

  Bogotá suburb. Listening to accounts from families who have fled fighting.
ref. CO-D-00100
08/2000 © ICRC /Boris Heger
 
 There we all were fooling around, telling jokes, making plans for the weekend when there was a knock at the door. Andrés went to see who was there. It was three guys in uniform who said they wanted to use the phone. Andrés let them in, but once they were inside they pulled out guns and started shooting at us.

Roberto and I survived by a miracle. We were both wounded – Roberto in the lung and me in the face. He’s the only friend I’ve got left now; neither of us wants to go back home.

I think they did it because the other side had sprayed graffiti on the house and Andrés’ parents hadn’t dared erase it as they had threatened to kill anyone who did.”



Left with nothing and no one

 For security reasons, all names have been changed and any information which might permit identification has been omitted.  

 Left with nothing and no one  

    

 "I was working in my fields about an hour away from home when suddenly I heard shooting. I kept still and hid in the crops until it stopped."  

    

Once things seemed to be back to normal, I decided to go home and see what had happened. On the way, I met a neighbour who told me that an armed group had taken my elder son away.

When I got home another neighbour told me that the same group had killed my second son, who was 17, accusing him of belonging to the other side, as well as my wife, who had tried to defend him. Their bodies were lying in front of the house.

Later that day we found the body of my elder son, which they had left in a vacant lot.

I buried my family and set off for the city. I’m afraid to go home because if those men return they will surely kill me. And anyway, how would I manage without my wife and sons? You need strength to work in the fields and I’m over 60. I don’t know what to do. I’m left with nobody and nothing in the world.”

Armando, Antioquia



The same name

 For security reasons, all names have been changed and any information which might permit identification has been omitted.  

    

 The same name  

    

“We were living on our small farm where my husband José Francisco made a living producing honey. We had several beehives in the fields.Some months before José Francisco disappeared, I had moved to Valledupar as our youngest son needed medical care for a nervous disorder that they could not treat in the village. When we got to Valledupar, I managed to find work as a nurse. I worked from Mondays to Fridays, and every weekend we went home so all the family could be together.

While I was working in Valledupar, José Francisco stayed at home with our other children. Although they managed to look after the house while I was away, when I got home at the weekends I spent much of my time washing, ironing and preparing food for the coming week. It wasn’t easy living apart, but I accepted it as I knew it was better for our son.

On 15 March 2002 my eldest son, who had gone out partying with friends the night before, came home at 5 a.m. and met his father who was already on his way out to gather honey from the beehives. He had received a lot of orders for Easter, and anyway he always went to work early in the morning. He’s a very sensible and reliable man and never had any problems with anyone.

Since that day we have neither seen nor heard of him. We have asked everyone, we’ve combed the area, we even organized a search party with lots of people, giving them food and petrol. We reported the disappearance to the police and the ombudsman. They sent us to the International Committee of the Red Cross, saying that it was the only organization that could conduct inquiries with the armed groups. We also made an appeal on local radio.

The days passed and still no news. No one could tell us anything about José Francisco. In the village, everyone thought it very strange because he was a good man, a good father and a good member of the community. The neighbours started getting very nervous and afraid because, although we do live in a dangerous area where people regularly get killed, my husband had no quarrels with anybody and had nothing to do with the conflict.

As the days went by and there was still no sign of José Francisco, we thought maybe he had gone to Magdalena Medio to look for a better job. He had already spent some years there and knew a lot of people. So my sons and I saved up some money and sent a cousin to look for him. That was in January this year. We hoped for good news, but so far he has found out nothing. Everyone was asking us what had happened, why José Francisco would have gone off like that. He is a very good man and I’m sure he would never have abandoned us. I haven’t lost faith that he is still alive and in good health. I just wish he would come home soon.

Now my life has got even harder because, on top of my husband’s disappearance, my son’s health has taken a turn for the worse. He’s receiving psychological treatment but this is very expensive. Fortunately the doctors at the hospital help me out from time to time. My wages alone are not enough to pay for the treatment and for schooling for the older children, who are looking for permanent work. However the job situation is not good where we live. What is more, we don't get help from anybody.

We need José Francisco to come home because it is very difficult for a woman to cope on her own.

 Some days ago I learned something that worries me greatly. It seems that my husband has the same last name as the commander of an armed group that is operating in our area.”  



"I want to go home!"

 For security reasons, all names have been changed and any information which might permit identification has been omitted.  

    

 "I want to go home!" says displaced Colombian girl  

    

 "My name is Mileydi. I'm 10 years old. I used to live in Caldas with mama and my brother and sister. Papa left years ago, when I was little.  

Mama took in laundry and baked bread to sell in the street. My big sister helped her after school. One night, two men came to our house and scolded mama. They said she was a collaborator because she was washing clothes for men in uniforms. They told my sister not to talk, otherwise she'd be in trouble.

After that, mama decided we should go and stay with friends in Bogotá. At first I cried all the time. When we got to the city, mama's friends lent us a room. We also got help from the Red Cross, food and some other things we needed.

The room we're living in is very small. Each day we have to put everything away, even the mattresses. And we can't go out into the street, they say it's dangerous. I don't like Bogotá. I don't have any friends here and I'm bored. I like being in the countryside and the sunshine. Bogotá is very ugly, I wa nt to go home! "

Like 1,148 other people who fled to the capital in January 2003 because of the armed conflict, Mileydi and her family are beneficiaries of the ICRC's emergency aid programme in Colombia. In 2002, the programme reached some180,000 people throughout the country – 60 per cent more than in 2001.



20 years old and a widow

 20 years old and a widow  

    

" I’m six months pregnant, yet I feel none of the joy of a newly-wed woman and expectant mum.

    

 I haven’t smiled since the day a group of men came to the house asking for my husband. They took him outside to talk, then they shot him twice. After that I went to live with my parents in the village.  

 

I cry a lot. I think about my baby and how he’ll never know his father. I think about his future, and how I’m going to raise him.

Nobody in the village can understand what happened or why they killed a man as upright as my husband, who had no links with any side in the conflict. After they shot him, and because of the armed groups everywhere, many people left the area: you know, wh en one lot arrives the next is sure to come soon after, and it’s always us civilians who bear the brunt.”



Anguish

 Anguish  

    

 "On 29 November I left home with my daughter to go and visit my sister in El Vergel. We didn’t meet anyone on the way and the doors of all the houses were closed, which seemed strange. Suddenly I heard shots and saw men in camouflage. At that point I decided to leave the road and turned off onto a small path.

My sister was not at home, and while we waited for her five men appeared wearing camouflage. They told us to leave the village that afternoon or the next day, as they’d come to clean up.

We then went to the house of some people we know. My sister was there, as were many others who had received the same order. One couple couldn’t stop crying -- they had just seen their son executed before their eyes. I also lost my partner because of the war.

We didn’t sleep a wink that night and decided to head for Granada the next day. We don’t know what the future has in store for us, but the way things stand, going back to our homes isn’t an option.”