Contextualising Our Next Step: A Brief History of Displacement in Colombia

A Brief History of Displacement in Colombia

As LIVED is working in collaboration with UNHCR to solidify plans for the delivery of our filmmaking workshop and the making of a participatory documentary with displaced young people in Altos de la Florida, Colombia this coming July, we thought it necessary to provide some background information on the complex and deeply entrenched displacement situation in Colombia, which has been and continues to affect countless lives throughout the country.

Internal displacement of citizens in Colombia has been credited to two phenomena: armed conflict and widespread flooding.

Although there is a dispute over the causes and origins of the complicated and long-lasting armed conflict, it has been a conflict with simultaneous stages of conflict and post-conflict strategies throughout, which include truth seeking and judiciary processes. The armed conflict has involved a variety of actors, from the Colombian government, to guerrilla and paramilitaries groups, drugs dealers and the international community, most notably the U.S.A.

On the one hand, there have been many guerrilla groups that have joined the conflict since it began, the most pervasive of all is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which continues hostilities to this day in Colombia. By the 1990’s the U.S. government was supporting the Colombian government in the struggle against drug trade but had extended their support to fighting the leftist guerrilla groups. As a result of U.S. involvement, which came monetarily to wage a ‘war on drugs’ as well as through peace efforts, many peace agreements were made in Colombia, effectively removing many of the leftist guerrilla groups from the conflict. Unfortunately, this did not include the FARC or the ELN, another of the main guerrilla groups. In 1998, the FARC and the Colombian government attempted a peace agreement, which failed and resulted in the continuation of the conflict (BBC, 2012).

On the other hand, the paramilitary groups, which were created in the 1980’s after years of terrorizing communities and committing some of the most vicious crimes in the country with the excuse of combating the guerrilla groups (National Centre for Historical Memory, 2013), went through a transitional justice process (Justice and Peace Law), and ‘formally demobilised’ in 2005. Nevertheless, there are several reports of former armed members of these groups organising as Bacrim (neo-paramilitary criminal gangs), and their armed control continues in several areas of the country.

Consequently, as of July 2014 Colombia had 5,700,381 internally displaced persons (IDP’s) and 397,079 refugees (UNHCR). “Despite government efforts to improve its response to forced displacement and to implement the Law on Victims and Land Restitution (Victims Law, 2011), widespread security risks and violence involving the forced recruitment of children and youth, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), threats, disappearances and murders, continue to occur. Competition for control of marginalized urban areas has increased.” (UNHCR, 2014). In 2014, 527,190 people were declared displaced to the Victims Unit (Red Nacional de Información, 2015).

In addition to displacement due to armed conflict, massive floods in 2010 and 2012 have impacted over 5 million people, causing further displacement and damage to land and resources in Colombia (Forced Migration Review, 2013).

The civil war in Colombia has provided a different kind of challenge for peace negotiations because of the dichotomy of stability and violence that exists within Colombia’s boarders (Lopez, 2012: 5). This is possible due to the difference between urban and rural contexts. Rural areas have continued to experience widespread violence, while many urban areas experience relative stability; urban areas are often where internally displaced Colombians have fled for safety, sometimes finding more violence and threats there. Although the urban areas can provide stability and relative safety from violence to displaced persons, the cities are often lacking resources to provide for citizens who are living in poverty and unable to provide for their families. Organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration, the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) and national and regional organisations have been working with the Colombian government to help provide assistance to displaced persons, focusing primarily on integration into new communities, as many displaced persons cannot (because of the continuity of the armed conflict) or are unwilling to return to their community of origin.

While current peace negotiations with the FARC are hopeful, there is no perceived end in sight to the Colombian civil war, the longest civil war in recent history. Running alongside efforts to resolve the civil war is the equally significant need to address the experiences and ongoing struggle of the huge number of displaced persons. Many humanitarian organisations have provided resources to help displaced persons reintegrate and create a home without carrying the label of ‘refugee’, but the needs of individuals and communities alike remain dire and largely unfulfilled. The efforts that are underway by these organisations are primarily seeking to create a platform for individuals affected by war to safely tell their story, help integrate them into new communities and provide emergency assistance, income generating skills and education opportunities for children.

It is estimated that about half of the displaced population in Colombia are under the age of 18, but with many families experiencing vast poverty, education is low on their list of priorities. Child marriage, gang recruitment, child soldier recruitment and lack of space and quality education within the public school system are also some of the contributing factors to why children are not enrolled in formal education (Save the Children, 2014).

LIVED proposes to provide an avenue for young people in Colombia to participate in a documentary filmmaking workshop that will not only provide them with a skill, but also provide the opportunity to cultivate a voice and share their story. This is key for a country that experiences post-conflict scenarios in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict, as processes of historical memory have already started to take form and as the voices of young people remain missing.