Magazine article Forced Migration Review

From Rural Colombia to Urban Alienation

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

From Rural Colombia to Urban Alienation

Article excerpt

The relationships between poverty, inequality and conflict exacerbate youth migration from rural areas.

The great majority of young people in the Department of Antioquia who are forcibly displaced migrate to its capital, Medellin, where the population is now over six times the size it was 50 years ago. This migration removes them from the social and cultural structures within which they grew up, destroying their security as young people are not emotionally prepared to deal with violent events charged with such tragedy and pain. These events, little by little, make them accustomed to living with conflict, where anyone could be the enemy and where they are constantly adrift, physically and morally, feeling insecure and fearful in their own homes, in their own land.

Over time this has devastating effects, leading to disillusionment and tearing of the social fabric, and causing young people to withdraw. That is why many young people appear to cling to the need to survive rather than looking to their future; their youth has been a period of transformation disrupted by violence that has not allowed them to exist, think and feel as 'normal' young people but has instead forced them to assume adult responsibilities with little or no preparation.

When displaced youth arrive in large urban centres such as Bogotá and Medellin, they are obliged to hide their fear of an unknown place ruled by different values and beliefs. They have to adapt to a new rhythm of life if they are to fit in with this territory, abruptly transforming their personal and family reference points in a new landscape where they know very little. This threatens their sense of identity and destroys their connection with their roots as they try to settle into a new lifestyle.

Often they fear to speak, remember, tell their stories. They prefer to make no comment but their thoughts are filled with recurrent memories of the events that have marked them for life. That is why growing up in the context of constant conflict represents such an enormous challenge for displaced youth. They must confront the same problems and uncertainties as any other adolescent but without sufficient opportunities for education or the acquisition of specific skills, and having experienced even fewer of the conditions necessary for a healthy life, either physical or mental.

This permanent state of confrontation leads to children and young people internalising violent modes of resolving differences and conflicts as natural, as the environment in which they have grown up has trivialised this type of behaviour, very often making silence and passivity the only way to survive. This situation worsens as time goes by but the lives of these young people do not change, generating a profound feeling of frustration and lack of conformity with their surroundings, as they realise they are not offered the conditions and opportunities they need in order to move ahead. On some occasions this can lead them to join neighbourhood gangs as a moneymaking option, segregating them further from society while venting their anger against it, once again initiating a cycle of violence in a possibly never-ending process.

While the city is seen as providing greater security against armed conflict, the reality is that these urban centres are associated with different forms of violence for displaced people, who are a relatively powerless minority group in such surroundings. In reality there is a change of scene but not of the conditions of violence that have forced them to leave their home areas. …

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