Colombia: Reports Show Quadrupling of Displaced Persons in Past Decade
Colombia's continuing conflicts have created a displaced population of three million to four million people, according to reports from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), the Catholic Church, and other groups. The displacement crisis has seen geometric growth under Plan Colombia, the US-funding program for military activities, and President Alvaro Uribe's "democratic security" and "Plan Patriota" policies of hard-line military action against rebel groups, according to statistical surveys.
Growing conflict makes millions refugees
The number of people displaced from their communities because of the armed conflict quadrupled in the past decade, leading the Catholic Church and humanitarian organizations to estimate in February that almost three million Colombians lived in poverty-level conditions. The first report by the Catholic Church on displaced people in 1995 spoke of some 586,000 refugees. By 2005 the church had counted 2.9 million in a report titled Challenges For Constructing the Nation: The Country Facing Displacement, Armed Conflict, and Humanitarian Crisis.
The nongovernmental organization Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos (CODHES) contributed data to the report, which concluded that "there is an expansion of displacement associated with the intensification of the conflict."
Maurizio Pontini, a Catholic priest and one of the study's authors, told The Associated Press that "displacement continues to be produced, it has not ended as people want it to be understood so much of the time."
Harvey Suarez, CODHES researcher and coauthor of the study, said, "In the 2005 map, there is a greater impact in the southern part of the country where there was a flare-up in confrontations caused by policies of territorial recuperation under Plan Patriota."
Suarez said the military activity had strong repercussions because in those forested areas with low population density, a few families represented whole populations that, once they fled, left the areas vacant.
Compared with 1995, when only 32 of the 1,098 municipalities of Colombia were considered "expellers" of population, in 2005 907 municipalities, or 87%, were in that category. As to the towns that would receive refugees, 799 municipalities were registered in 2004 and 675 in 2005. The principal armed actors who force displacement are guerrillas and paramilitary groups.
Half the victims are less than 15 years old, the majority are women, and the ethnic groups most affected are people of African descent and indigenous people, according to the report.
"They live, as can be seen, in the shadows," begging, looking for any means to survive under precarious conditions, said Pontini, pointing out that less than 36% of refugees have work. "A humanitarian and human rights crisis that is chronic and sustained" persists, he said.
The report said there had been positive advances in the past decade with the implementation of laws and criminal sentencing that seek to protect refugees' human rights and a greater consciousness of the situation among the general population.
UNHCR placed blame for the increase in displacement on Plan Colombia, the US-funding package of mostly military aid that has funneled billions into Colombia since the second term of President Bill Clinton (1995-2001). UNHCR materials also reported on the role of state violence in displacement, in addition to illegal groups. A 115-page report from UNHCR pointed to executions of civilians that had been attributed to the military, presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
CODHES said in October that the third quarter of 2005 registered the highest level of displacement in the past 3 years, with about 99,338 people, or some 19,868 families, displaced by violence and insecure conditions. CODHES noted that almost one million people had been uprooted during Uribe's term, while during the administration of President Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), the number was 1. …