Needs and responses
Colombians in exile
Although most Colombians fleeing violence do not leave the borders of their country, some do cross into neighbouring countries or even go further afield. The countries sharing borders with Colombia (particularly Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela) do not tend to consider Colombians seeking refuge in their countries as refugees, but rather as undocumented immigrants. Many are returned to Colombia, and those who do remain do not usually receive assistance. In 2001, some 80,000-105,000 Colombians were estimated to be living in refugee-like circumstances in these three countries (50,000-75,000 in Venezuela, 30,000 in Ecuador, and 1,100 in Panama), but the numbers are increasing and could be much higher. The numbers fleeing to Central America, particularly Mexico and Costa Rica, dramatically increased towards the end of the 1990s. Costa Rica received a total of 5,500 Colombian asylum seekers during the year 2001. Others flee to the US and Europe. During 2001 some 12,860 Colombians sought asylum outside the region, 7,603 in the US, 3,533 in European countries and 1,627 in Canada (USCR 2002) . Every year tens of thousands of Colombians travel to other countries, particularly the US, and remain there once there visas have expired. Visa requirements for Colombians have been stepped up all over the Western Hemisphere and Colombians also now require a transit visa to pass through the USA.
Venezuela and Ecuador both have troops monitoring their shared borders with Colombia, but Ecuador is reported to have a higher acceptance rate of Colombian asylum seekers. Currently, there are thought to be a few thousand Colombian asylum seekers living in Ecuador, as well as many more who live there without having applied for asylum. Many Colombians who go to Ecuador have fled violence in the Putumayo region of Colombia. Colombians residing in Ecuador tend not to receive much institutional assistance, are prevented from working, and have allegedly endured violations of their civil and political rights.
Many of those Colombians seeking refuge in Panama have fled from the Chocó region of Colombia and are Afro-Panamanians or indigenous people. Most Colombians fleeing to Panama settle in the Darien, a remote, tropical forest region. Paramilitary forces from Colombia have made military excursions into Panama, allegedly in pursuit of guerrillas who regularly pass in and out of the region. In the past, Panama has been comprehensively criticized for forcibly returning Colombian refugees, in violation of their legal obligations under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Although many Colombians seeking refuge in Venezuela are sent back, thousands have managed to settle there, living amongst more established Colombian communities. At one point, the Venezuelan authorities were repatriating all Colombian de facto refugees and even came up with a special term for them: 'internally displaced in transit'. As in Panama, many Colombians in Venezuela try to keep a low profile, living and working as if they were Venezuelan.
Refugees in Colombia
At the end of 2001 Colombia hosted some 227 people of concern to UNHCR, of which 210 were recognized as refugees (USCR 2002) . These included Nicaraguans, Chileans, and Hungarians.
Most of those killed for political reasons in Colombia are men. Women and children make up most of the internally displaced.
Guerrillas, paramilitaries, and security forces in Colombia have all been accused of routinely and forcibly recruiting children to their ranks (HRW 1998) , in violation of Article 4 (3) (c) of Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids the recruitment or inclusion in hostilities of children under 15. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes similar demands upon the Colombian state, which ratified it in 1991. An optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child raises the minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities from 15 to 18. In addition, domestic legislation also protects the rights of the child. Although some children undoubtedly join an armed group by choice, there is strong evidence that others are compelled to do so, although many of the armed groups deny it (HRW 1998) . Both boys and girls are recruited. Child soldiers who escape are considered to be deserters and may be subject to on-the-spot execution. Displacement to avoid forced recruitment is a relatively recent and growing phenomenon in Colombia. Parents may send sons and daughters away, or the entire family unit may flee together.
In 1997 Colombia passed Law 418, which makes boys under the age of 18 exempt from military service in the armed forces. In spite of this, under-18s do continue to serve in the armed forces with parental permission. Although these children are not technically serving in war zones, the distinctions are blurred in the context of Colombia. Children who supposedly only carry out support functions to an armed group are in fact often drawn into a more participatory role. Even if they are not actively engaged in combat, as military personnel children may be considered legitimate targets by an opposing side.
As witnesses to terror and extreme violence, children often suffer psychosocial trauma. Displaced girls, in particular, are vulnerable to rape, sexual exploitation and prostitution. Adolescent boys are often treated as criminals, and have few education or employment opportunities. Criminal activity and violence may appear to be the only avenues open to them.
Many girls work as domestic servants, working long hours for low wages with few, if any, social benefits. Domestic work and prostitution tend to be the only options for impoverished, poorly educated girls in Colombia. According to UNICEF, 55 per cent of the displaced are under 18 years of age and 13 per cent are under 5 (Cohen and Deng, The Forsaken People, 1998) . In general, children are particularly vulnerable to homelessness, 'social cleansing', prostitution, forced recruitment to one of the armed groups, kidnappings, landmines, and domestic violence.
- Casa Alianza http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/index-en.shtml
- A Charade of Concern: The Abandonment of Colombia's Forcibly Displaced, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children http://www.womenscommission.org/reports/womenscommission-columbiareport.pdf
- Children Displaced by Violence, Derechos http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/desplazados/jov.html
- Save the Children Fund http://www.savethechildren.org.uk
- Statistics on Displaced Children, Global IDP Database http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/IdpProjectDb/idpSurvey.nsf/1c963eb504904cde41256782007493b8/aaa0ca2349b8731ac125684100344863?OpenDocument
- Unseen Millions: The Catastrophe of Displacement in Colombia. Children and Adolescents at Risk
- Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children http://www.womenscommission.org/reports/wc_colombia_04.02.pdf
According to a 2001 report by the Women and Armed Conflict Work Table, every fourteen days a Colombian woman is forcibly 'disappeared'. Some 58 per cent of Colombians forced to flee their homes are female and some 39 per cent of households are headed by women. Many of these displaced women are responsible for elderly relatives as well as children. These women are forced to flee under threat of violence, often having lost husbands, fathers, and brothers in massacres and extra-judicial killings. Some 36 per cent of displaced women are heads of households due to changes in the family structure before, during, and after displacement. With no home and no income, they are forced into menial jobs, street vending, prostitution, or begging. Women often find it difficult to obtain the ninety-day assistance available through the ICRC or the Colombian Red Cross and some are not even aware of their entitlements.
Women are the victims of physical, verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse by members of the armed groups. These types of assault are related to women's historical status, one of discrimination and marginalization
- A Charade of Concern: The Abandonment of Colombia's Forcibly Displaced, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children http://www.womenscommission.org/reports/womenscommission-columbiareport.pdf
- Half a Million Displaced, Mujeres en Red http://www.nodo50.org/mujeresred/colombia-desplazadas.html
- Statistics on Displaced Women, Global IDP Database http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/IdpProjectDb/idpSurvey.nsf/1c963eb504904cde41256782007493b8/fb3c5783ded661e6c1256841003466ff?OpenDocument
- Law, Social Justice and Global Government: Legal Services to the Displaced Population of Colombia http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/global/issue/2001-1/mullerhoff2.html
Civil society in Colombia, - understood here to include local NGOs, grassroots groups, the church, and universities - play a variety of roles in assisting and protecting IDPs. Many NGOs are treated with suspicion and hostility by the authorities and are frequently accused of being guerrilla sympathizers, despite their criticism of all sides in the conflict. Many human rights activists and lawyers have been intimidated and threatened; some have been killed or forced to flee. The church has played a highly important and influential role in addressing the plight of the displaced in Colombia. In particular, the church has been involved in assistance projects, human rights protection programmes, and peace dialogue initiatives. It has also conducted and published comprehensive studies, such as the year-long study resulting in the Bishop's Conference report.
Colombia has a long tradition of popular movements, social resistance, and NGOs. There is also a long history of tension and suspicion in the relationship between the Colombian government and NGOs. They have become more numerous and dispersed throughout the country in recent years, though most are still based in the main cities. There are numerous Colombian NGOs carrying out research, investigations, reporting, and advocacy activities on human rights issues and the conditions of the displaced. There are a smaller number of Colombian NGOs providing assistance and support to displaced people.
The NGO Mencoldes provides basic assistance and counselling to displaced persons arriving in Bogota. Mencoldes has provided shelter to some displaced families and also assists them in gaining access to government assistance. The Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace ( Comisión Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz) runs the Data Bank on Political Violence. The Popular Research and Education Centre ( Centro de Investigación y Educación Popluar, CINEP) compiles information on human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
Another important Colombian NGOs is the Association for the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (ASFADDES). This organization works in the promotion and protection of human rights, specializing in work with the relatives of people who have been 'disappeared' and murdered as a part of repression. They report on events and supervise legal cases, as well as working in human rights education.
There are a number of grassroots self-protection initiatives in Colombia, notably the 'peace communities' ( Comunidades de Paz) and Communities in Resistance ( Comunidades de Resistencia). These groups emerged after a series of massive displacements in the Urabá region in 1997, and have declared themselves as unarmed civilians and autonomous to all armed groups. The success of these communities has been somewhat mixed.
- Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz http://asamblea.porlapaz.org.co/
- Centro de Investigación y Educación Popluar (CINEP) http://www.cinep.org.co/
- Colombian Commission of Jurists/ Comision Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ) http://www.nd.edu/~kellogg/ccj.html
- Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) http://www.codhes.org.co/
- Corporacion de Promocion Popular (Popular Training Institute) http://www.corporacionpp.org.co
- Exodo: Bulletin on Internal Displacement in Colombia, published by Support Group to Organizations of Displaced People in Colombia (GAD) http://www.exodo.org.co/
- La Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP) http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/eng.html
- Government Plan of Action to Prevent and Assist IDPs http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net/desplazados/leyes/conpes3057/index.htm
- Minga (The Association for Alternative Social Advancement) http://www.mingaong.com.co/
The ICRC has delegations in the most affected areas, which visit detainees, promote humanitarian law, and provide material assistance to those recently displaced. With its sixteen sub-delegations, the ICRC is able to gain wide access and maintains contact with all the armed groups.
Project Counselling Service (PCS) is an international consortium of European and Canadian NGOs. PCS and its sponsoring agencies have worked with local counterparts, NGOs, and grassroots organizations to find durable solutions to the problems faced by refugees, displaced people, and others affected by internal socio-political conflict throughout Latin America, including Colombia. PCS has a permanent office in Colombia. The member agencies of PCS are the Danish Refugee Council, Dutch Interchurch Aid, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS), and the Canadian agency Inter Pares.
Oxfam also has offices in Colombia and has been working with Colombian NGOs and grassroots organizations for over twenty years. Oxfam provides direct assistance, training and education on human rights and international humanitarian and refugee law, psychosocial rehabilitation to torture victims, as well as advocacy and lobbying at national and international levels.
Since 1994 Peace Brigades International (PBI) has been providing international accompaniment to human rights defenders who are threatened with political violence. PBI has gradually expanded its activities in subsequent years, providing accompaniment to many on a 24-hour-a-day basis.
Other international NGOs fund projects working with the displaced in Colombia by channelling funds through local NGOs or the church.
Although the Colombian government has managed to resist efforts from the international community to have a special rapporteur to the UN Commission on Human Rights, a UN human rights office was established in Colombia in 1997 with a one-year mandate. This office has received substantial funding and staff members from the EU. The office continues to run with its mandate currently due to expire in April 2002.
UNHCR opened its first office in Colombia in 1999, under an agreement with the Colombian government. UNHCR's activities in the country are aimed at strengthening local capacity to deal with internal displacement. Specifically, this has involved providing technical and financial support to the government and NGOs in providing assistance to the internally displaced; advising the police and military on the obligations to provide security to the displaced; and advising on contingency planning and early warning for emergencies. UNHCR is also working to strengthen asylum procedures in Colombia's neighbouring countries. In August 2001 UNHCR announced the opening of its third field office, this one located inn the southern department of Putumayo near the border with Ecuador. The other two offices are in Barrancabermeja and Apartado.
- Comisión Interamerican de Derechos Humanos (CIDH, OAS) http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/2000eng/chap.4a.htm
- OPS/PAHO http://www.col.ops-oms.org
- Development Gateway http://www.developmentgateway.org/country-overview?country_id=36695
- ICRC http://www.icrc.org/WEBGRAPH.NSF/Graphics/AN2000_latin_america.pdf/$FILE/AN2000_latin_america.pdf http://www.icrc.org/WEBGRAPH.NSF/Graphics/AC_AM_COLOMBIA_AR.pdf/$FILE/AC_AM_COLOMBIA_AR.pdf
- International Treaties to which Colombia is a signatory in 2000, Human Rights Internet http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2000/vol4/colombiarr.htm
- ReliefWeb (Spanish) http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/vID/120ECC676A7E8213852569E40057763C?OpenDocument
- Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Francis Deng, Submitted Pursuant to Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1993/95. Profiles in Displacement: Colombia http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.1995.50.Add.1.En?Opendocument
- Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons Submitted in Accordance with Commission Resolution 1999/47, Profiles in Displacement: Follow-up Mission to Colombia http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/6d5358107a11e85a802568ac003ea6b6/$FILE/G0010059.pdf
- Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Office in Colombia 2000, UN Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2000/documentation/commission/e-cn4-2000-11.htm
- Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Office in Colombia 2001, UN Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.2001.15.En?Opendocument
- Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 1999, UN Commission on Human Rights http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord2000/documentation/commission/e-cn4-2000-64.htm
- Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/Colom99en/table%20of%20contents.htm
- Inter-American Commission On Human Rights (IACHR), Annual Report 2000 Chapter IV Colombia
- UNHCR Operational Plan for Response of UNHCR to Forced Displacement in Colombia http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/IdpProjectDb/idpSurvey.nsf/1c963eb504904cde41256782007493b8/3DC5BD1A2B7DA409C125684000743A67/$file/UNHCRCol.pdf
- UNHCHR Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.2001.15.En?Opendocument
- UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.co/00.htm
- World Bank http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/External/lac/lac.nsf/596f1e60aab04341852567d6006ae779/32f04d5a7493cd5b852567f400640bdc?OpenDocument
- American Association of Jurists http://www.aaj.org.br
- Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/
- Andean Commission of Jurists http://www.cajpe.org.pe/ENG_CAJ.HTM
- Catholic Relief Services http://www.catholicrelief.org/
- Children of the Andes http://www.children-of-the-andes.org/
- Christian Aid http://www.christian-aid.org.uk http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/world/where/lac/colombip.htm
- Colombia Human Rights Network http://www.igc.org/colhrnet/
- Colombia Support Network http://www.colombiasupport.net/
- Crosspoint Anti-Racism http://www.magenta.nl/crosspoint/colombia.html
- Derechos Human Rights http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/eng.html
- Global IDP Database http://www.db.idpproject.org/Sites/idpSurvey.nsf/wCountries/Colombia
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) http://www.hrw.org/ http://www.hrw.org/reports98/colombia/ http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/americas/colombia.html
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) http://www.fidh.org/ameriq/colombie.htm
- Latin America Working Group http://www.lawg.org
- Lawyers Committee for Human Rights http://www.lchr.org/home.htm
- Médecins du Monde http://www.medecinsdumonde.org
- Mennonite Foundation for Community Development (Mencoldes) http://www.mcc.org/us/washington/seedsofpeace/index.html
- Mine Action http://www.mineaction.org/countries_overview.cfm?country_id=Colombia
- Norwegian Refugee Council http://www.nrc.no
- Oxfam http://www.oxfam.org.uk/atwork/where/lac/colombia.htm
- Peace Brigades International (PBI) http://www.peacebrigades.org/colombia.html
- Process of Black Communities http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/colombia/
- Project Counselling Service (PCS) http://www.infotext.org/pcs/
- US Committee for Refugees (USCR) http://www.refugees.org/ http://www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/amer_carib/colombia.htm
- Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) http://www.wola.org/ http://www.wola.org/colombia_pubs_csinitiatives.htm
- Witness for Peace http://www.witnessforpeace.org/colombia.html
- World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) http://www.omct.org/