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Colombia: improving displaced people's access to education, work and housing

13-12-2007 Interview

Interview with Christina Oberli, economic security project coordinator for the ICRC's delegation in Colombia.


  Christina Oberli with a displaced Colombian woman    

 How does the ICRC view the problem of displaced people in Colombia?  


Many people caught up in the armed conflict in Colombia have had to flee for their lives and abandon their homes in order to escape threats and violent clashes between armed groups, among other things. According to the govern ment’s official figures, just over two million people have been displaced.
Those who have fled have been forced to abandon their families, their friends and their assets (such as their land, their crops and their animals) only to have to deal with a new social environment in an urban setting, where their displaced status affords them few opportunities. This has led to critical situations, with single mothers and children the worst affected. In response to this, both the government and national and international organizations are making huge efforts to improve the living conditions of these people.

  See also

As part of its work in Colombia, the ICRC has helped over one million people, supplying them with food and household essentials, both directly, thr ough its programme of protection and emergency humanitarian assistance, and through projects undertaken in cooperation with the Colombian Red Cross and the Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y la Cooperación Internacional (the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation , often abbreviated to “Acción Social” or “Social Action”) .

 What is the specific aim of the study presented by the ICRC and the World Food Programme (WFP)?

The ICRC and the WFP hope that the results summarized in the study will lead to even greater awareness of the situation and the needs to be met among the different groups assisting the displaced population in this country. They hope that the national government, the departmental and municipal governments, national non-governmental organizations, international organizations, the private sector, civil society and organizations for displaced people (all of which are actively involved in national discussions regarding this issue) will accordingly join forces and pool their resources in order to provide better and more comprehensive assistance.

 What specific contributions can this study make towards improving assistance for displaced people?

The analysis carried out in the study reveals that in spite of the huge efforts made by both the national government and local governments to improve the living conditions of the displaced population, problems still occur during different phases of the assistance process. The study therefore contains the following recommendations:

  Shelter for a displaced family in Baranquilla    
  • The barriers affecting access to literacy teaching and basic adult education must be tackled as an integral part of emergency humanitarian assistance, through the entire assistance process, and also through other mechanisms for addressing low levels of education, such as schools for parents. Work must be done to remove the obstacles which include the cost of equipment, uniforms, transport and even the registration fees in many cases.

  • There must be greater emphasis on programmes of corporate social responsibility, where the common goal is to build networks that favour microenterprise development for capital creation rather than purely for subsistence, and employment processes that match people to the labour market and to the market for goods and services, to work experience and to potential employment contracts.

  • There must be better acces s to subsidies for improving living accommodation, developing neighbourhoods, and relocation in cases where homes are situated in high-risk areas.

  • Sexual and reproductive health programmes should be set up in the districts of the city where displaced people are living, and must also include psychosocial support.

  • The psychosocial support provided by the main agencies must be better coordinated and more effective in order to bolster the emotional state of family members (both as individuals and as a family unit) and that of their social group. Psychosocial support should be comprehensive and have a holistic approach, and should also include efforts to help public officials (in relation to logistical issues, working conditions and emotional welfare) provide people with the best possible assistance.

  • Effective systems must be put in place to protect property abandoned by displaced people and to provide compensation, so that those deprived of assets can recover their capital quickly.

The study’s statistical results can also serve as a baseline, while the quality-of-life index can be used to monitor the implementation of public policy. Furthermore, the components of SNAIPD ( Sistema Nacional de Atención Integral a la Población Desplazada – National System for the Comprehensive Assistance of Displaced People) can be added to the organizational chart (which is just a first draft) and this will help identify more agencies, their responsibilities and their allocated resources and will improve coordination between the different groups assisting the displaced population.