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Colombia: Displaced families take refuge in homesof other displaced families

03-06-2003 News Release 03/65

The population of San Francisco in eastern Antioquia doubled overnight after fighting between armed groups forced two thousand terrified peasants to seek refuge in the village, abandoning everything they owned.

“Luckily for us,” says Augusta Tamayo, “there were plenty of homes abandoned by people who had left San Francisco because of threats.”

While the authorities were trying to house dozens of displaced persons, ICRC delegates based in Medellín (Antioquia) drove for three hours to assess needs. The result was an ICRC convoy of four trucks and two other vehicles that arrived in San Francisco from Medellín carrying supplies, sleeping mats, blankets, sheets, hygiene articles and cooking equipment. Dozens of men, women and children were waiting impatiently when the convoy arrived. This was the first distribution – the ICRC will be providing supplies for three months.

Alba Margarita, a young mother with four children aged two, three, eight and nine, lived with her husband in El Suspiro. They earned their living growing sugar cane, kidney beans, bananas and corn. Like thousands of other Colombians, they had to leave everything at a moment’s notice, adding their names to the endless list of displaced persons. “There was a lot of shooting during the night, and a bomb or something hit our house. I thought the children were dead. My husband got up in a panic and we ran away with the children. We spent the night in the woods, and as soon as it was light we headed for San Francisco. We were in such a hurry that we had no time to bring anything, and we don’t know when we’ll be able to go back.”

Teresa, her husband and her seven children have taken refuge in an empty house, along with 30 other people, including a number of families. “There’s a lot of us,” says Teresa. “The fighters said we had to get out, to clear the way for the fighting. They said we had to leave because they didn’t wan t to harm us, but what worse harm is there than this exile?”

“At first, we were in the football stadium, but we were very afraid. It’s better being together in this house. It’s not very comfortable, but we feel safer.” The people in the house where Teresa is living have decided to cook together. “With there being so many of us, it’s better to cook one meal for everyone. It’s a good thing the ICRC gave us supplies, mats and sheets. I don’t know what we’d have done without their help. My sons are farmers. They all have wives and children, but they had to leave like the rest of us, and now they’ve no means of supporting their families.”

 Further information:  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 24 58