Colombia: war refugees reach two-decade peak

In the first six months of 2008, the “desplazados,” or internally displaced persons from Colombia’s conflict, reached a record number of 270,675—about 41% more than the same period in 2007. “The national rate shows an average of 632 desplazados for every 100,000 inhabitants; between January and June, 1,500 new refugees left their homes each day. This is the highest number since 1985″, said Jorge Rojas, director of Colombia’s non-governmental Consulting Group on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).

“The geography of forced displacement extends to almost all of the national territory,” Rojas added. “Clearly the continuous exodus remains a serious, critical, sustained and prolonged expression of a humanitarian crisis that the country has not been able to overcome yet.” CODHES says the blame falls mainly on the re-armament of the far-right paramilitary groups.

According to government numbers, there are a total of 2.6 million desplazados in Colombia, but CODHES considers this a low estimate, saying thousands more people have yet to be accounted for. Social Action, the presidential agency responsible for aid to the desplazados, disputes the CODHES figures and methodology.

“While CODHES uses an estimate of the phenomenon, the government, through the Unitary Displaced Population Registry (RUPD), uses an administrative, quasi-census registry of the phenomenon,” Social Action said in a statement. The agency classifies two forms of displacement: by “expulsion” and “reception”—in which people willingly abandon their lands for new ones. Social Action accuses CODHES of counting people in the latter category in its total.

Both CODHES and Social Action name Chocó and Antioquia as the departments most affected by displacement at present, with Bolívar, Magdalena and Tolima also named. (MISNA via ReliefWeb, Oct. 1; Semana, Bogotá, Sept. 30)

See our last post on paramilitary terror in Colombia.