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Colombia: death threats drive thousands from their homes every year

02-04-2008 News Release 08/59

Bogotá / Geneva (ICRC) – In Colombia, fighting and threats continue to force thousands of families to flee their homes every year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today. In 2007 alone, the ICRC provided food and household items to more than 66,000 displaced persons – a six per cent increase compared with 2006.

“While mass displacement has subsided in recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of families leaving their homes because of the conflict,” said Barbara Hintermann, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Colombia. Presenting the organization’s 2007 activity report in Bogotá, she added: “The steady stream of families fleeing their land and settling in cities goes almost unnoticed. The plight of those who have lost everything because of the armed conflict is rarely discussed in public.”

Children are particularly hard hit by this crisis: more than half the displaced people receiving ICRC support last year were under 18. Fifty-eight per cent of the displaced said they left their homes after receiving death threats, while 11 per cent said they had been put under pressure to cooperate with weapon bearers. Nine per cent stated that they had been threatened with forced recruitment into an armed group, and five per cent fled following armed clashes near their homes.

In 2007, the ICRC documented nearly 1,700 alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Colombia, including summary executions, forced disappearances and hostage-taking. It helped nearly 2,500 people who had received threats to move to safer areas – a 40 per cent increase over 2006.

“I’m continuously angry and very depressed,” says Aurora, a mother of three who fled with her family from the town of Sabana de Torres (Santander department) to the city of Bucaramanga in 1998. “My husband, who used to be a fisherman, still hasn’t managed to find work and has fallen into a state of total depression, which has led to other family problems that are difficult to manage,” she adds. “There’s a stigma attached to being displaced. It’s humiliating.”

The ICRC has been working in Colombia since 1969, when it began visiting people detained in connection with the armed conflict. Since 1997, it has been providing relief assistance to displaced people. During this period, the organization has significantly increased its support to people displaced by war, set up agricultural, water and sanitation projects, and, serving as a neutral and independent intermediary, regularly facilitated the release of hostages. The ICRC also promotes awareness of international humanitarian law among the country’s political authorities and in civil society and universities, as well as among all parties to the conflict.

 For more information, please contact:  

 Marçal Izard and Yves Heller, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 217 3224  

 Carlos Ríos, ICRC Bogotá, tel. +57 1 313 86 30