Humanitarian and political background
Implementation of a peace agreement with FARC is dominating the political and policy agenda, although attention is also turning to the May 2018 presidential election. However, Colombia's large displaced population continues to live in dire circumstances. Every day since the most recent peace process began in 2012, another 500 people have been forced to flee. Rights defenders, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and other community activists face threats and violence, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable.
Despite the peace agreement with the FARC and a drop in violence, it is unlikely that forced displacement in Colombia will end any time soon. OCHA estimates that almost 171,000 conflict related new displacements occurred in 2016 alone. Colombia has the second largest displaced population in the world, after Syria, and 4,9 million still depend on humanitarian aid. It is therefore vital that the international humanitarian community does not prematurely withdraw its support. A sudden reduction in humanitarian assistance could jeopardize the safety and well-being of newly displaced as well as vulnerable communities, and harm the transition to peace.
An on-going humanitarian crisis
Levels of internal displacement increases in the Pacific region in 2017, which affect several communities, particularly in the Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño departments. In these areas, there has been an 86% increase in the number of displaced persons compared to the previous year. According to The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), indigenous and afro Colombian communities have long been disproportionately affected by displacement.
While the peace agreement is a positive development, the dynamics of armed conflict and other forms of violence are in flux. Armed actors are adapting to the new situation arising from the peace accord between the Government and FARC-EP. Other irregular armed groups have increased their actions in the shadow of the FARC- Colombian Government ceasefire, and the clash with these groups is causing the majority of new humanitarian needs. This is likely to continue, as these actors are competing for territorial control and illicit economies in regions previously controlled by the FARC-EP. After exploratory talks, the peace dialogues between the Government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) was formally installed in Ecuador, in February 2017.
Dire circumstances in urban displacement
There are no major displacement camps in Colombia, as displaced people mainly seek safety in urban areas. There, they live in dire circumstances, with inadequate housing, little chances of getting a job, and limited access to public services.
Displacement also drives people into poverty. Nearly two out of three displaced people live below the poverty line. Every third displaced person in Colombia lives in extreme poverty. In this context, creating an environment in which displaced people find guarantees of non-repetition and durable solutions will require enormous efforts.
Fleeing to neighbouring countries
At the same time, displaced seeking internatuional protection in neighbouring countries continues. According to UNHCR, more than 340,000 Colombians have fled to neighbouring Ecuador, Panamá and Venezuela, but these countries have not yet recognised their refugee status.
People we helped in Colombia in 2016
NRC in Colombia
Through our Colombia programme, we help internally displaced people in Colombia as well as Colombian refugees in neighbouring Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. We assist and protect them, and work for lasting change.
Many Colombians have been displaced for years. Still, after five decades of conflict, even more Colombians are forced to flee their homes. Our Colombia staff assists both the newly displaced and those who have spent their lives in displacement.
We concentrate our emergency assistance in areas where needs are the highest. NRC works in rural areas with pressing needs for protection and assistance: the Pacific Coast and Catatumbo in Colombia, and the border areas in Ecuador and Venezuela. We give help and protection in urban areas when needed, such as in Tumaco. NRC works to strengthen local institutions and build local communities' resilience.
In addition to assisting in emergencies, NRC promotes human rights. To create lasting change, we help make local and national institutions responsible for – and capable of – fulfilling the rights of displaced people. We empower local communities, an important step towards safeguarding their rights. Where authorities fail to provide protection or emergency assistance, NRC strives to fill the gaps.
We also provide assistance to, and advocate for the rights of, people displaced and affected by continual violence in Honduras.
NRC has offices in Santa Marta, Cucuta, Popayan, Esmeraldas, Panama City, and San Cristobal, as well as satellite offices in Tumaco, Pasto, Guapi, Ocaña, Mérida, Quibdo, Florencia and Granada (Meta).
We help Colombia's displaced population by providing legal assistance, ensuring that conflict-affected children can go to school, bringing in emergency assistance when new conflict arises, and assisting Colombian refugees in gaining refugee status in neighbouring countries.
I have met too many children and youth who have not been in school for years due to the conflict.
Christian Visnes, NRC Country Director in Colombia
NRC works to enable conflict-affected children to go to school safely. We help displaced families keep their children in school, and work with children so they can complete their basic education and find safe work opportunities.
Our education activities:
- Help out-of-school children by conducting censuses in municipalities affected by conflict.
- Give technical support to educational authorities to provide alternative education programmes for those who are out of school.
- Give technical support to schools and training centres to implement flexible education models for out-of-school children.
- Support schools and technical and vocational skills training centres, increasing their capacity to meet the needs of out-of-school children.
- Directly support children so they can attend flexible education model programmes and technical and vocational skills training.
It is important these children receive an education, because it is a fundamental right, and it is the only way that we will make peace in this country.
Olga Samira Hinestrosa, teacher to displaced children in Tumaco, Colombia
Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA)
We work to improve access to registration procedures and legal humanitarian assistance for internally displaced Colombians, as well as access to land and housing for communities that have had their land or houses seized or abandoned.
Our ICLA activities aim to:
- Assist recently and protracted displaced people in rural and urban areas who have not yet declared their displacement to the Public Ministry.
- Provide legal services to IDPs and their communities who are victims of usurpation or abandonment of lands or housing.
- Legal assistance services will be offered in order to guarantee the victims’ rights in the post-ruling stage of the land restitution process, with an emphasis on housing.
- Provide legal information, counselling and assistance for communities or individuals on how to access adequate housing including social programs or how to limit risks of eviction.
When fresh conflict arises in remote places, we bring humanitarian assistance to communities where no permanent field presence has been or will be established. We also help newly displaced children go to safe learning environments during acute emergencies.
In emergencies, NRC works to:
- Train teachers so that they can best teach and support their pupils during an emergency.
- Distribute learning and sports equipment, so that children can continue to learn and play.
- Build temporary classrooms and latrines and upgrade school infrastructure.
- Supply food and temporary shelters.
Regional refugee programme
We assist vulnerable people in gaining refugee status and other forms of international protection. In Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, we help refugees exercise their housing, land and property rights.
Our regional refugee programme aims to:
- Provide information and legal assistance to asylum seekers, refugees and people in need of international protection.
- Accompany recently arrived refugees to reach refugee commissions.
- Provide legal advice and assistance on housing, land and property rights.
- Ensure that asylum seekers, refugees and others can access the Colombian victims’ registry and the reparation measures outlined in the victims’ law.
- Give technical support to authorities, to increase their capacity in reaching vulnerable people.
- Overcome legal barriers that keep displaced people from accessing basic rights.
- Inform and empower individuals and communities on long-lasting solutions.
A worrisome peace
Today marks one year since the Colombian Congress ratified the peace agreement with the former guerrilla movement FARC.
The people the peace forgot
“We are afraid, because if they can kill one of our leaders, they can easily kill one of us,” says Anancio Rojas.