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Colombia: the ICRC assistance programme for the displaced

27-08-2007 Feature

To be displaced is not just to have to flee. To be displaced is to lose everything. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Colombians are forced to abandon their homes to save their lives. Ten years ago, the ICRC launched an emergency humanitarian assistance programme for Colombia's displaced. Since then, it has helped more than a million displacement victims.

  This is where Dona Magola and Cemilra should be, coming out of mass 
  This is where Don Genaro and his family should be.    
  They should NOT be here.    

To be displaced is not just to flee. To be displaced is to lose everything

  The ICRC has delivered thousands of tonnes of food aid and household staples to over one million displaced persons in Colombia.    
The Colombian Red Cross Society delivers assistance to the displaced in different areas across the country.    
  The ICRC conducts private interviews with displaced families to learn more about their situation and identify the type of assistance required. 
Over the last 10 years, the ICRC has closely monitored displacement in Colombia enabling it to adapt its relief programmes to the needs of the victims. 
  This document is an excerpt from Vidas desplazadas (Displaced Lives), a brochure published by the ICRC delegation in Bogotá  
Displacement in Colombia 
 By Barbara Hintermann, Head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia  The humanitarian crisis in Colombia has had dire consequences for the civilian population. One such consequence is forced displacement, which has obliged millions of Colombians to abandon their homes, their land, their crops, their animals and their culture and suffer the coldness and hostility of the big cities where they tend to gravitate and where solidarity is often lacking.

In Colombia, and specifically within the framework of the armed conflict, the ICRC, in fulfilment of its humanitarian mission, maintains permanent contact with the victims and develops a variety of integrated programmes and projects to address their basic needs. As for the obligations of the Colombian State to assist those persons affected by the armed conflict, substantial improvements have been made in public policy to assist the displaced. Particularly worthy of note is the fact that displacement has been formally recognized by enactment of Law 387/97 a nd its regulatory decrees acknowledging the rights of the displaced. This has translated into sizeable increases in the budgetary allocation for humanitarian assistance. However, despite these noteworthy efforts on the part of the Colombian State and, in particular, of the institutions that form part of the SNAIPD (national system for integrated IDP assistance), it is necessary to further scale up the response in order to restore the violated rights of the displaced population. I am confident that, given the country’s strong institutionality, the growing commitment of the Colombian Government, the support of the international cooperation agencies and the solidarity of the civilian society in general, it is feasible to overcome the vulnerability of the displaced. This will require going beyond humanitarian relief and achieving socio-economic consolidation or return. For its part, the ICRC, with a highly dedicated team, will continue to work every day to strengthen its relief programmes, in an effort to be closer to the victims of the conflict and provide timely protection and assistance with a differentiated view and in keeping with their basic needs.  
ICRC assistance programme for the displaced population in Colombia 
By Christina Oberli, Assistance Coordinator of the ICRC delegation in Colombia

 Types of assistance  

The population is assisted according to the respective dis placement pattern:

  • Massively, when several families are displaced toward the city centre closest to their home. In these cases, the ICRC provides direct aid in situ where the victims arrive.

  • Individually, when families leave one by one and arrive, for the most part, in large urban centres where they are assisted by the ICRC. In each case, ICRC personnel assess existing needs and deliver aid accordingly.


Up until 2002, the majority of persons assisted were cases of massive displacements, accounting for almost 60% of the assistance delivered by the ICRC. Over the last four years, however, increasing gradual displacement of individual families has seen the proportion of aid provided to such beneficiaries rise to 66%.

ICRC assistance consists of the delivery of foodstuffs to meet the basic needs of the beneficiaries for a maximum of three months, and up to six months for extremely vulnerable families (single women, men or older adult heads of household, orphans and families with an incapacitated member). One-time assistance, in the form of household essentials, is also distributed, including cleaning supplies, cooking supplies, dishes, clothing, sheets, mattresses or hammocks, blankets and mosquito netting.

 International Red Cross Movement  

Since 2003, and thanks to the cooperation programme signed by and between the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross Society (CRC), assistance coverage increased for persons displaced individually toward large or middle-sized cities.

With these cooperation programmes, the ICRC assists 30% of the beneficiaries of individual assistance.

 Protecting the victims  

In the case of displacement, in addition to providing humanitarian relief to families, the ICRC seeks, via confidential dialogue, to increase the awareness of the parties to the conflict of the humanitarian consequences for the affected population.

Within its mandate, the ICRC furthermore conducts diverse activities that aim at protecting the lives of persons who are victims of, inter alia , death threats, providing counselling and support befitting the problems and requirements of each case.


 Access to health care  

Health care is one of the major concerns of the displaced. The ICRC enables these families to have access to medical assistance by providing transportation, lodging and medication.

 Alternative humanitarian assistance  

A voucher distribution programme was launched in Bogotá in 2005 to provide humanitarian assistance better suited to meet the needs of the displaced. The programme enables displaced families to buy their own food in markets close to their place of residence and in keeping with their usual eating habits. (more on the food assistance vouchers ) In an effort to improve the food security of the displaced families, since 2003 the ICRC has also been providing support for the production of short-cycle organic crops (short-cycle) and poultry raising.

 What does coordination mean for the ICRC?  

The demand for humanitarian assistanc e in Colombia is extremely high. That being the case, it is critical to coordinate continuously with other organizations as concerns assistance to the victims of armed conflict. Without compromising its independence and neutrality, the ICRC recognizes the importance of complementing available resources to provide more extensive and more effective humanitarian assistance coverage. Accordingly, it has, among other things, contributed resources these last years for institutional strengthening of the assistance and guidance units.

The challenge of assisting the displaced has enabled the ICRC to acquire experience in this domain and to build a professional team committed to humanitarian work to benefit the victims of Colombia’s armed conflict.

Since the ICRC delegation in Colombia launched its emergency relief programme in 1997, the programme has assisted 1,024,940 persons (222,579 families), 53% of whom are minors. Over the last 5 years humanitarian assistance was also delivered proportionately to indigenous persons (6.2%) and Afro-Colombians (11.8%). Of the families assisted, 18% were headed by single women.