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Colombia: Displacement

10-07-2013 Feature

Displaced people leave everything behind to begin a new life in the midst of uncertainty and fear. In 2012, an increase in massive displacements led to instability in many communities in different parts of the country.

Rural area of Cauca, 19 September 2012. A caravan 

Rural area of Cauca, 19 September 2012. A caravan transports tools and supplies to shoe, vaccinate and treat horses and mules donated by the ICRC. The ICRC runs farming projects in conflict zones in order to prevent displacement.
© CICR / E. Tovar

Colombia has one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced people, with official estimates putting the number registered since 1997 at over 3,900,000. This humanitarian problem, which has uprooted entire families, forcing them to leave everything behind and start a new life, continued unabated in 2012.

An increase in fighting in some areas of the country led to more massive displacements, and the ICRC provided assistance to those affected over the year. Many were short-term displacements, with communities later returning to their homes. Individual displacements from the country to the city and between different districts within the same city (as in the case of Buenaventura and Medellín) also continued.

The main causes of displacement included death threats and psychological abuse, armed fighting, weapon contamination, threats of forced recruitment, the theft of belongings by armed groups, direct attacks and killings of civilians, the disappearance of a family member and sexual violence.

Areas affected by displacement

The departments from which the greatest numbers of displaced people fled were Cauca, Nariño and Putumayo. According to ICRC records, the municipalities in these departments with the highest number of people individually displaced were Tumaco (Nariño), Puerto Asís (Putumayo) and Argelia (Cauca), while the municipalities in which the ICRC assisted most massive displacements were Ricaurte (Nariño) and Argelia, Morales, Toribío, Miranda and Caloto (Cauca).

The main challenge is to ensure that these people have a means of earning a living, so that they can restart their lives, and to meet the needs of the thousands of displaced people still waiting to receive integrated assistance from the State.

14 tonnes of food supplies driven seven hours to El Mango

El Mango is a village in the municipality of Argelia in southern Cauca, more than six hours away from Popayán, the department capital. It has suffered repeated outbreaks of fighting. In 2012, the local authorities recorded 80 incidents connected with the armed conflict in Argelia which, in addition to the municipality’s main town, also includes the village districts of El Mango, Sinaí and El Plateado... Read more


Gloria and Luis, entrepreneurs in the midst of violence

In October 2012 Gloria and her family had to move to a different neighbourhood in Medellín, because of fighting between rival gangs. The future of her children was the main reason for the move. “I would rather sleep under a bridge with my children than let them get involved in a gang and hurt people or get themselves hurt,” remarked Gloria... Read more


Horses and mules save lives in conflict zones

For mountain communities in the southwestern Cauca region of Colombia, horses and mules are valued companions. Indeed, because of their isolated location, these communities are completely dependent on their beasts of burden, which transport goods, water and harvested crops, as well as people who are injured and sick.... Read more


In Putumayo, the future tastes of cocoa

The communities that live along the banks of the San Miguel river in Putumayo department (bordering Ecuador) are isolated and have few livelihood options. On top of this, the presence of armed groups in the area has brought periodic outbreaks of violence, making the lives of the civilian population very difficult... Read more



Victims’ voices

“I do my best to get by.”

“The armed groups fighting in the area forced us to flee. They killed three people and left them in the square at three o’clock in the morning. Then they gave us half an hour to leave. We had a plot of land with cassava, yams, vegetables, beans, chickens and pigs. A lady in the village took us in, because nobody else would help us. Humanitarian aid from the government arrived a year later; they made us fill out a whole bunch of forms, supposedly to get us a house, but then nothing happened. We are still living in a settlement. Sometimes an organization brings us a little market and we sell fritters and tamales and hold raffles. I do my best to get by. Nobody is left to die in a village. Sometimes I am so stressed that it seems as if my head will explode, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Help will come from somewhere”.

Beatriz, displaced from Tierralta (Córdoba)


The ICRC’s humanitarian response

The delivery of emergency humanitarian aid to places affected by armed conflict and inaccessible areas, as illustrated in the story about El Mango, Argelia (see p. 34), is one of the main added values of the ICRC’s work to assist displaced people. Going to places that nobody else has access to in order to help those in need often requires complicated logistical operations using different means of transport (carts, boats, horses and trucks) and involving many hours or even days of travelling to get there. The ICRC documents these cases and discusses them in a confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict in an attempt to persuade them to respect the civilian population in all circumstances.

In 2012, the ICRC focused its efforts on providing assistance in cases of massive displacement in inaccessible areas. The ICRC, with the support of the Colombian Red Cross, delivered humanitarian aid, consisting of food, personal hygiene products and essential household items, to 16,037 people in 43 cases of massive displacement, many of which were in northern and southern parts of Cauca and in Ricaurte (Nariño).

The ICRC also provided assistance in places where displaced people gathered, particularly in the case of indigenous communities who took shelter in permanent community assembly halls, with a view to meeting their basic needs immediately after displacement.

According to ICRC’s figures, the number of cases of individual displacement fell. This was partly due to the fact that most of the programmes for individual assistance in the country’s main cities were discontinued. In spite of this, 16,139 people were assisted in Cali, Pasto, Popayán and Puerto Asís. In two of these cities, assistance was provided with the support of the Colombian Red Cross. In 2013, the ICRC will continue to provide assistance in exceptional cases of individual displacement, particularly in complex cases connected with other violations which come to the knowledge of the organization as a result of its work in conflict areas.

In the 16 years that the individual assistance programme, which ended in December 2012, has been running, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Colombian Red Cross, has assisted over 1,300,000 people, including 724,376 cases of individual displacement. The programme was ended because, although there is still much to be done, State institutions are improving their capacity to deal with cases of individual displacement, allowing the ICRC to focus its efforts on the more inaccessible areas and cases of massive displacement.

Additionally, in 2012, the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross supported displaced and vulnerable families through projects implemented in Nechí (Antioquia), Tame (Arauca), Tierralta (Córdoba), Florencia (Caquetá), Pasto (Nariño) and San José del Guaviare (Guaviare). These projects included workshops for children on values and peaceful coexistence, vocational training through the Colombian Red Cross’s Damas Grises (lady volunteers) and the National Learning Service (SENA), psychosocial activities with the community and guidance and advice for victims on how to become included in government programmes.

Institutional support

In order to improve assistance for victims of displacement in Colombia, the ICRC makes representations to government bodies, in particular the integrated victim assistance and reparation unit (UARIV), the Ministry of Public Affairs and municipal authorities.

Although the government’s response time for assisting displacement victims did improve in the second half of the year, the ICRC voiced its concerns over the delays in assessing statements filed by displaced people for inclusion in the unified register of displaced persons. Being included in the register is vital, as it is a requirement for receiving the emergency assistance provided by the integrated victim assistance and reparation unit and other entitlements established in the Law on Victims’ Rights and Land Restitution” (Law 1448).

There are also many victims who have not been able to file their statement with the Ministry of Public Affairs offices. Aware of the extent of the problem, the ICRC supported the organization of 20 days of massive statement-filing operations in the departments of Córdoba, Chocó, Valle, Putumayo and Nariño. These efforts enabled 2,520 families (12,445 people) to file their statements which, once assessed by the integrated victim assistance and reparation unit, will enable them to be included in the unified register of displaced persons, making them eligible for assistance and reparation under Law 1448 of 2011.

With a view to strengthening institutional capacities in this area, the ICRC donated computers, scanners and printers, which are expected to speed up the online filing process for the unified register carried out by Ministry employees.



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