When people or families are forced to flee their homes, "time doesn’t pass", says Hernando*, an eleven-year-old boy from the village of San José de Uré, in Córdoba department, Colombia.
On 18 January 2018, Hernando and the members of his community in San Pedrito had to flee after the murder of Plinio Pulgarín, one of their leaders. They were forced to leave their land and all their possessions behind. Hernando doesn’t know how long he will be away from his regular life, the familiar field he used to play in or the toys he left in his room. He says he is afraid of people who dress in camouflage or "any green uniform”.
"We were scared because there was a lot of violence. Shots came from everywhere,” says Rafael Teheran, a man from the same community.
In the south of Córdoba, the continuing conflict and the power struggle over the black market in illegal goods continue to have disastrous consequences. Leaders who are not in hiding have reported threats from armed groups for participating in the National Plan to Replace Crops for Illicit Use, a programme created under the peace deal and offering participating coca-growing families’ financial incentives to exchange their illicit crops for legal alternatives, like cacao and coffee.
Leaders are being killed
About 8.7 million people in Colombia continue to live amid conflict. Among them, 7.4 million are displaced. These numbers are comparable with the population of a city as big as the capital Bogotá. However, mere numbers do not describe the suffering the experience of forced displacement entails and the needs resulting from it.
In San José de Uré, the atmosphere is one of anguish and anxiety. A climate of fear and desperation casts a pall over the city. In venues ranging from the area in front of City Hall, in the streets, parks, a small hotel in town and in the shelters that were prepared as a result of the crisis, the more than four hundred displaced people residing in the community spend their days waiting.
Leonor Yepes, a woman among the group, tells us that they are awaiting government recognition of their situation and for the authorities to understand that they, unarmed farmers, do not want to be in the middle of the conflict.
“We wait for the security to return to our homes, and are asking that the government otherwise relocates us,” she says.
Not safe to return
The most recent official displacement recorded in this municipality took place in September 2016. Since then, these rural communities have appeared to live in relative calm. However, more than 130 displaced families attest to the continuing violence, and that they do not feel safe to return.
The homicides of three more social leaders in the community have since followed the first murder, leaving the community frightened for their lives and their land. The leaders were Antonio María Vargas (killed 31 January 2018), Luis Arturo Royety (killed 8 March) and Tomás Barreto (killed 11 March).
The armed groups also arrived in the territory of the Embera Katío indigenous community, searching for Donaciano Majoré, the governor of Dochama, but were unable to find him. As a result, the community fled shortly thereafter, seeking protection.
"We are afraid. That is why we left our land and don’t intend to return," says the indigenous leader. He says his community will do what is necessary to avoid any more of their people becoming victims to the conflict. They have asked the National Government for new land, where they can start again, and focus on the future.
The local Ombudsman has called the situation a humanitarian emergency and called on the National Government to strengthen "support of territorial entities to guarantee the fundamental rights for the displaced population, as well as actions to prevent forced displacement and protection of the fundamental rights to life, liberty and personal integrity".
Our Colombia country team provides emergency education, legal assistance, shelter and food for displaced people in the municipality of San José de Uré in collaboration with Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, and with funding from the Department of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection of the European Commission (ECHO).
* Name has been changed