Colombia: Huge increase in numbers forced to flee their homes

‘A hidden tragedy’ says Amnesty

Amnesty International has urged warring parties in Colombia to stop dragging civilians into the hostilities, as it deplored the dramatic increase in the number of Colombians forced to leave their homes because of the armed conflict.

In a report published today [16 July] entitledEverything left behind: internal displacement in Colombia ’, Amnesty International documents that as many as 380,000 people were forced to flee their homes in Colombia last year – an increase of more than 24 per cent from 2007. There are now three to four million internally displaced people in Colombia, one of the highest number of internally displaced of any country in the world.

At least a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighbouring countries.

Most of the displaced are escaping violence arising from the 40-year-long internal armed conflict; many have been deliberately targeted by guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces as part of strategies designed to remove whole communities from areas of military, strategic or economic importance.

The great majority of those affected are Indigenous People, Afro-Descendants and campesinos (or farm-workers), many of whom live in areas which are potentially economically profitable, such as land that could be used for mineral and oil exploration or agro-industrial developments.

Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Director, Marcelo Pollack said:

“The dire humanitarian situation in Colombia is one of today’s most hidden tragedies, and belies claims by the Colombian government that the country has overcome its troubled past.

“Until the authorities in Colombia acknowledge the very real effects of the conflict, the human rights of millions of people have little chance of being protected.”

Much of the wealth accumulated by the paramilitaries and their political and business supporters has been based on the misappropriation of land through violence or the threat of violence. Some estimate that between four and six million hectares of land owned by thousands of campesinos, Indigenous People and Afro-Descendants have been stolen this way.

Most of the displaced have to flee their homes suddenly, when their lives are under imminent threat. Some become separated from their families or communities and are forced to leave with only what they can carry. Most go on to face discrimination wherever they go and there is rarely the prospect of being able to return home.

One displaced person told Amnesty International:

“It was my turn to get out of the area. The violence had worn me down. The PM [paramilitaries], the army and the guerrillas are all there. [One of these groups] sent me a note saying they were going to kill me.

“One night a guy with a weapon came to my house. He gave us a fright. It was 8 o’clock at night. He was up to no good. He was circling round the house with a weapon, none of the family saw him but a neighbour did. They told us, you’d better get out. I left with my family, including my eldest daughter and her son. There are seven of us altogether.”

Amnesty International is urging the Colombian authorities to take effective measures to prevent forced displacement, improve the protection of civilians and to identify and return all stolen lands and other assets to their rightful owners or their families. The organisation is also calling on all parties to the conflict to respect the right of civilians not to be dragged into the conflict.

  • read the report

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