Forced displacement reaches highest level for ten years

More people were forcibly displaced by violence in the first six months of 2018 than in all of 2017, according to figures published by Colombia’s national Ombudsman’s Office and the Colombian NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).

According to the Ombudsman, at least 17,825 people, representing 5,262 families, were displaced between January and June this year. The CODHES figure is virtually double this amount, citing 34,409 people forced from their homes. The different figures are because the Ombudsman does not record incidents of smaller displacements in which less than 50 people are affected. The true figure is therefore likely to be significantly higher, as the CODHES findings suggest. Indeed, CODHES says that forced displacement in Colombia is at its highest point for ten years.

The situation is concentrated in three principal regions: Catatumbo in northeast Colombia, the Pacific region of Nariño, Chocó and Cauca, and in the border zone of north Antioquia and south Cordobá. These regions are also among the worst affected by the escalation of violence against social leaders and human rights defenders in which hundreds of people have been murdered since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

The increase in violence in the regions is linked to competition between armed groups looking to establish territorial control in the absence of a strong state presence. In many instances, the FARC’s demobilisation following the peace agreement has created a power vacuum that these groups seek to fill. This has brought them into direct confrontation with resident communities.

Elsewhere, the end of the ceasefire between the government and guerrilla organisation the National Liberation Army (ELN) has seen an increase in hostile activity between the ELN, the armed forces and paramilitary groups. In the Pacific region, displacement often occurs in zones of strategic access to the sea, critical to illegal routes operated by drugs traffickers and other organised crime groups.

As a result of the armed conflict and ongoing instability, Colombia has the world’s highest number of forcibly displaced people, with over seven million people. Although the peace agreement stipulates programmes of land restitution for those forced from their homes, in reality very few are likely to return. Many displacement victims settle in the peripheries of major cities, where limited opportunities and poor access to services and resources means that millions of people face extremely precarious conditions.