Last year saw a significant rise in people forced to abandon their homes due to conflict and other forms of violence, alarming new research by the Red Cross has shown. The findings, published in a report entitled Retos Humanitarios 2023: Colombia (Humanitarian Challenges 2023: Colombia), provide further evidence of the scale of the challenge facing the government of Gustavo Petro as it seeks to stabilise volatile regions through peacebuilding initiatives and developmental programmes.
In 2022, according to the Red Cross figures, 58,010 people suffered forced displacement on a collective level, compared with 52,880 in the preceding twelve months. Another 123,220 experienced individual cases of forced displacement.
The eastern department of Arauca was worst affected, accounting for 15.6 per cent of cases. The department’s strategic border location and the historic lack of a state presence has seen armed groups establish a strong foothold, generating violent clashes between rivals over lucrative illicit economies. This generated a huge rise in forced displacement from 763 cases in 2021 to some 19,000 in 2022. Other impacted departments included Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Nariño, Antioquia, Santander and Cauca.
There were also high levels of forced confinement, again attributed to the impact of armed groups in several zones. In the departments of Chocó, Valle del Cauca and Nariño, a total of 39,404 people were unable to move freely, which severely restricted their access to healthcare, food, water and other essential services. It also had severe economic and social impacts by preventing people from working or children from attending school. According to the Red Cross, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of those affected were of indigenous heritage.
Furthermore, the Red Cross found that landmines left 515 victims last year, 56 of whom died. Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño, Arauca, Norte de Santander and Meta accounted for over 70 per cent of cases. While this was a 13 per cent fall on 2021, there were a further 354 victims of explosive devices and controlled detonations.
2022 also saw the second-highest number of forced disappearances since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. 209 people, including 42 children and adolescents, were disappeared, a figure only surpassed by the 243 cases registered the previous year. Four out of every five cases occurred in Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño or Norte de Santander. Additionally, the Red Cross registered 1,170 victims of sexual violence within the context of conflict, while there were 426 attacks on medical services, personnel or facilities.
The Red Cross said that it welcomed the dialogues initiated by the Petro government with armed groups behind much of the instability, saying it ‘hopes that this can transform into concrete steps that alleviate the suffering of the civilian population.’