Colombia: displacement

18-04-2012 Feature

Displaced people lose everything when they leave behind their homes and their land to begin a new life in an unfamiliar place. The humanitarian crisis caused by displacement in Colombia is of immense proportions, with cases on the rise in 2011. Extract from Colombia report 2011.


© ICRC / W. Krassowski / V-P-CO-E-00382H

Displaced people have to leave everything behind: their land, their home, their family, their neighbours and friends, their crops and their livelihood. They lose their roots, and their whole world tumbles down when they flee in fear of their lives.

In Colombia, the humanitarian crisis caused by displacement has reached mammoth proportions: almost four million people have been uprooted from their homeland in recent years, which is almost 9% of the country’s population, according to figures provided by the Department for Social Prosperity (DPS).

Although official figures had been showing a gradual downward trend in recent years, this changed in 2011, and there was a worrying increase in massive displacement of over 50% compared with the previous year, according to the DPS. This situation adds to the challenges faced by the Colombian State.

Most displaced families have not returned home, and big cities continue to receive a constant trickle of new families and sometimes whole communities fleeing from their homeland en masse.

There are many reasons for displacement, but the main causes are threats, fighting, the murder of a family member, sexual violence and the recruitment of children. In the face of such violations of the law or the likelihood of them occurring, many individuals, families and communities have no choice but to flee to protect themselves.

Although in most cases people flee from the country to the city, from remote areas where armed conflict is taking place to population centres, there are also people who are forced by some form of violence to move from one part of a city to another. Regardless of who causes displacement, the consequences and suffering that it entails for those affected are the same in the city as they are in the country: poverty, fear and anxiety about starting a new life in an unfamiliar place.


Victims’ voices

“Fleeing and leaving our home behind was the hardest thing.”

© ICRC / M.C. Rivera

"We lost everything, absolutely everything: the farm, the bus stop stall, the hens. We even had a wood stove with six burners. We also left behind two mules, a billy goat, a horse, onion fields and blackberry patches. It’s really tough. We’ve been in the city for a month. I came on my own with my seven children. One day − it was a Sunday − armed men came to the house and said to us: ‘We don’t want to hurt you, but you must go; we know your husband is a snitch’. They came back eight days later and I also received a notification in writing telling me to leave. That same day, we gathered our things and fled. We took what we could: what we were wearing, a few blankets, three changes of clothes for the little one. This is so hard for us, because there in the country we were used to having our onions, our tomatoes. Here we have to buy everything. Fleeing and leaving our home behind was the hardest thing. We put in electricity and water. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. When my youngest son goes to nursery, I suppose I’ll go and get work ironing and washing; without any qualifications, what else can I do."

Testimony of a displaced woman who fled to the city with her seven children


The ICRC's humanitarian response

 In 2011, State institutions improved and stepped up their programmes to assist displaced people in most of the country’s cities, allowing the ICRC to focus its efforts on the more inaccessible areas.
The ICRC, with support from the Colombian Red Cross (CRC), continued to tackle the problem in areas where government bodies do not have access and closely monitored the situation in other places.

 In 2011, the ICRC assisted around 11,000 people in 24 cases of massive displacement. It also distributed food supplies, personal hygiene products and essential household items to some 25,000 people in cases of individual displacement. Displacement still affects ethnic minorities, women, the elderly and children more severely.



See also:


Colombia report 2011