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Where do you work in the region?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are approximately 50,000 recognized refugees and asylum-seekers from conflicts in Colombia and in the Andean and lower Central American regions. Specifically, UNHCR believes the number of Colombian persons of concern in Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica to be more than half a million.

The Bureau provides emergency humanitarian assistance for the first 90 days of displacement to Colombians, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia as well as Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Central and South American countries.

What are the major challenges for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region?

For decades, illegal armed groups - Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), El Ejercito de Liberation Nacional (ELN) and para-militaries - have forced hundreds of thousands of Colombian civilians to flee their homes. The situation has been further aggravated by drug trafficking and corruption. While p aramilitary violence decreased significantly in 2005 due to the demobilization process, FARC attacks on the civilian population have continued. All the illegal armed groups were involved in forced disappearances, narcotics trafficking, confining of civilian populations and kidnappings.

Groups like the FARC and the ELN often displace or kill civilians they suspect of supporting another armed group or the Government of Colombia. This phenomenon is particularly common when a group gains control over an area previously occupied by an opponent, resulting in threats, assassinations and displacements. The FARC and ELN discourage IDPs from registering with the government through force, intimidation, and disinformation. Guerrilla agents sometimes masquerade as IDPs to sow doubt and discontent among IDPs.

Newly emerging criminal groups consisting of some ex-paramilitaries and other illegal actors are terrorizing citizens in various parts of Colombia. According to UNHCR, these groups, are more focused on drug trafficking than political objectives. There are an estimated 3,000 people involved in as many as 20-30 such “franchised” groups, such as Nueva Generacion (in Nariño) and the Aguilas Negras / Azules, that have caused the displacement of individuals and whole villages. While activities of these groups are on the rise, the extent to which they displace persons is unknown.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNHCR, FARC is the illegally armed group that displaces the most citizens, by a wide margin.

IDPs live in generally difficult conditions. Many are denied civil and socio-economic rights.

  • Many IDPs do not register with the authorities and prefer to remain anonymous.  Without official registration and proper identity documents, IDPs face difficulties in accessing government assistance, employment, health care, and education. 
  • An IDP's civil and political rights, such as the right to vote, are also restricted if they have no identity documents; restitution and property rights may also be undermined.
  • The vast majority of IDPs in Colombia are dispersed rather than living in organized camps. IDPs often live in unhygienic conditions with little access to adequate water and sanitation, health care, education, or employment. In addition, there is high degree of interfamilial violence among IDPs, especially in the first few weeks and months after displacement.
  • Landless farmers and indigenous communities have struggled for their socio-economic rights, including respect for their cultures and rights to their ancestral lands.

How much Bureau funding went to projects in your region in fiscal year 2007 (October  2007 – September 30, 2008)?

The Bureau obligated approximately $37 million for the Western Hemisphere, of which $22.6 million was for assistance to Colombians.

Where are your refugee coordinators based? Which countries do they cover?

Our Refugee Coordinator, based in Bogotá, Colombia, covers all of Central and South America.

Which international organization ( IO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners are active in your region?

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