- Maria Mitri
Colombia's Growing Vulnerability to Internal Displacement
by Maria Mitri
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre found that following Syria, Colombia is the country with the highest number of internally displaced people. The number of those displaced in Colombia in 2021 was double that of 2020, according to Reuters, as Colombian civilians continue to face threats of violence by armed groups.
Current estimates put the number of Colombians displaced in 2021 at almost 74,000. This exponential increase is attributed to violence against civilians by non-state armed groups, as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that the number of attacks against civilians in 2021 increased by 37%.
Reuters estimates that 65,600 Colombians were forced to remain inside their homes as a result of violence, and a separate 85,700 Colombians saw general restrictions on their movement. As of February 2022, more than 53,000 Colombians remain displaced and face challenges like access to stable housing, lack of protection against violence, access to food and clean drinking water, and access to healthcare services and education.
Over the nearly six decades that conflict in Colombia has persisted, more than 260,000 have been killed and millions have been displaced. The Colombian conflict’s intractability began in 1964 with the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, which supported a redistribution of wealth to eradicate inequality and opposed the influence of foreign governments and corporations.
In the promotion of their agenda, the FARC has employed violence in a variety of ways, including bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and executions. The Colombian government has attempted cease-fires or peace treaties with the FARC many times, the most recent manifestation being a peace agreement in 2016.
This peace agreement was meant to renew hope in Colombia, as it intended to end to decades of bloody conflict. However, the government struggled to implement the agreement to the fullest extent and faced dissent from some members of the FARC, who began fighting against the guerrilla National Liberation Army and the drug-trafficking Clan del Golfo over territorial control, per Reuters.
Following the signing of the peace agreement, the United 10 Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that violence actually increased, alongside killings, forced militia recruitment, gender-based violence, and compromised access to education and water.
It is also important to note, however, that following the peace agreement, thousands of guerrilla fighters did lay down their weapons, and have moved into government-organized cooperatives intended to transition these rebels to normal life, according to NPR.
This is per one of the 12 guidelines of the agreement, which required that the Colombian government protect ex-FARC fighters and support their adjustment. However, the government has come under great scrutiny in the years following the implementation of the peace agreement as the number of former rebels killed has grown exponentially, from 31 killings in 2017 to 65 in 2018, according to NPR. A lot of these killings are thought to be revenge killings. However, there are other forces that threaten the ex-FARC members, the same as those displacing and killing countless Colombian civilians: drug trafficking groups in their fight for territorial control.
The displacement forced upon Colombian civilians has been referred to as the forced urbanization of Colombia. Most civilians have actually been displaced multiple times and rarely resettle in urban areas; instead, they are forced to live in what are typically impoverished informal camps that provide limited access to clean water.
There are inspiring stories of hope despite these dismal conditions, like a group of women from the neighborhood Altos de la Florida in Colombia. These women have been coordinating activities with an NGO working in the neighborhood to promote violence prevention, to train people for jobs, and educate civilians on their own right.
Despite the unique and productive collaboration between authorities, civilians, and NGOs in settlements like Altos de la Florida, the reality is that internally displaced people settle here as a last resort, after failed attempts of settling in places like Bogotá, with no true ownership over any land and minimal security in general.
The Colombian government commitment to maintaining peace, security, and liberty for its people not just by signing peace agreements, but maintaining them, and providing the opportunity for ceasefire negotiations with other non-state militant groups. The Colombian government is employed by its people, and if it fails to take greater initiative in their protection, greater and greater violence and displacement will no doubt occur.