Colombia has faced, over five decades, one of the world’s most acute internal displacement situations associated with conflict and violence. The government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest armed group, signed a peace agreement in 2016 which put an end to a conflict that had lasted for more than 50 years. This was a highly significant development and a prerequisite for achieving durable solutions for the country’s IDPs. Obstacles remain, however, including compensation, land and property restitution, and implementation of points agreed in the peace deal. Sudden-onset disasters and large-scale land acquisitions for development projects have also led to displacement in the country.
Despite the peace agreement, other illegal armed groups remain active and continued to cause displacement in 2018 with about 145,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence recorded. The northern department of Norte de Santander was the worst affected, as it also dealt with an influx of Venezuelans crossing the border. In addition, 67,000 new displacements associated with disasters, primarily caused by flooding, were recorded in 2018. Around 5.8 million people were living in internal displacement in the country as of the end of 2018.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Discontent in rural areas arising from economic inequality, political exclusion, corruption, poor governance, the uneven distribution of land and resources and territorial marginalisation led to the outbreak of armed conflict in Colombia in the mid-1960s. The country’s five-decade war involved government security forces, leftwing guerrillas, paramilitary groups and criminal groups. It began mostly in rural areas, but over time spread throughout the country. Non-state armed groups, the largest of which was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were particularly active in areas where state presence was weak or absent.
Land issues were at the heart of the conflict and remain a key factor in ensuring a sustainable peace. Counterinsurgency operations, fumigation campaigns to eradicate coca plantations, and a failure to provide meaningful economic alternatives, particularly to poor farmers growing coca, fuelled further conflict and displacement. It is estimated that more than 4.5 million hectares of land were seized or abandoned during the conflict.
Although a historic peace agreement between the government and the Revo¬lutionaryRevolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was signed in 2016, the country’s military has struggled to secure areas the demobilised guerrilla group used to control. Other armed groups vying for control of land, illegal mining and drug plantations and traf¬fickingtrafficking routes have filled this new vacuum, leading to renewed instability. In consequence, fighting between two guerrilla groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), triggered most of the displacement associated with conflict in 2018. About 145,000 new displacements occurred, an increase on the 139,000 new displacements in 2017, a sign that insecurity remains high. While the 2016 peace deal lays out a plan for comprehensive rural reform, including details on land restitution and farmers’ land rights, the extent to which its provisions will be successfully implemented remains to be seen.
Colombia also faces a high risk of displacement associated with disasters. The Andean mountain range, which includes active volcanos, covers about a third of the country, and seismic risk is high. Cities, including the capital Bogotá, are at particularly high risk of earthquakes, floods and landslides, and poor communities on the Pacific coast are also exposed to floods and tsunamis. Rapid and unplanned urbanisation, dense informal settlements in hazard-prone areas and a significant amount of construction in violation of safety regulations have played a role in increasing disaster risk in some towns and cities. Flooding and landslides are common, especially during Colombia’s rainy seasons.
Sudden-onset events, mainly floods, landslides and earthquakes, displace tens of thousands of people every year. There have also been some outlier events, such as the El Niño phenomenon in 2010, which led to unprecedented flooding and landslides throughout the country and the displacement of three million people. While not reaching this level of disruption, 2018 represented an increase in the trends seen in previous years. About 67,000 new displacements associated with disasters were recorded. Main events included the evacuation of 26,000 people due to rising water levels and the risk of a hydroelectric dam bursting in the municipality of Ituango, in the department of Antioquia. Flash flooding in the southern department of Putumayo in August also led to 30,000 new displacements.
Where and how do people move?
All of Colombia’s municipalities have had IDPs flee to or from their jurisdictions. Some IDPs have been confined or endure restricted mobility by hostilities, landmines and other threats. A number previously displaced by conflict have been displaced again by disasters.
According to the government’s Victim’s Registry, by the end of 2018 a total of about 1,089,000 people who had become displaced after 1985 had overcome vulnerabilities linked to their displacement in 7 areas monitored by the government (housing, family reunification, identification, nutrition, health, education and income). While this is encouraging, it is clear that many challenges to durable solutions remain. Armed groups and criminal gangs are fighting for control of areas previously held by FARC, and people fear the return of former combatants to their communities.
Internal displacement in Colombia is highly urban. Last year, more than 386,000 IDPs were estimated to be living in Bogota, a figure that represents around five per cent of the city’s population. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 people are displaced every year in Medellín, the country’s second largest city, as a result of criminal and gang violence. Much of the displacement triggered by criminal violence is intra-urban, as people move to other neighbourhoods in search of safety. Colombia’s main cities have also been important destinations for IDPs coming from rural areas in search of safety, job opportunities and access to services.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
IDPs continue to face protection concerns, including those associated with armed conflict and widespread violence, lack of access to agricultural and other livelihoods, and lack of formal employment and income-generating opportunities. Progress on land restitution has been slow. African-Colombian and indigenous people are at particularly high risk of displacement because their land is often in resource-rich areas targeted by armed groups.
This reflects the government’s increasing support for people displaced by the conflict, but it is important to highlight that financial support has not been constant over the years or across different departments.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, including IDPs, are logged in the Registro Único de Víctimas (RUV), or national victims’ registry, which is the most comprehensive dataset available on the country’s IDPs. It is the basis for our estimates of stock figures for IDPs, but given that it includes all people displaced since the start of the conflict, it may overestimate the number currently living as IDPs. In an effort to account for this, we worked with RUV to establish a revised estimate for 2018 that excludes people who have died and those who have overcome vulnerability related to housing in their pursuit of durable solutions.
As the RUV does not collect data on new displacements, IDMC bases its new displacement estimates on projections calculated by the UN's Colombia Information Management and Analysis Unit, which is led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
For displacement associated with disasters IDMC uses media reports that usually quote local government figures. There is a gap in information on the movement patterns of people displaced by disasters following their initial flight. Local governments gather data on them, but Colombia’s national disaster management agency, the Unidad Nacional de Gestión de Riesgos y Desastres, only requests and publishes information about the number of people affected and houses damaged and destroyed.
DMC’s estimate of the total number of IDPs in Colombia is based on an analysis of data provided by the Victim’s Registry (RUV), which keeps record of all victims of the civil war. The RUV data accounts for all people displaced since 1985 and includes people who have died or made progress toward durable solutions. IDMC has worked with the RUV to estimate the number of people who are still displaced by discounting these two caseloads.
IDMC’s estimate of the number of partial solutions is based on an analysis of RUV data on social and economic indicators for people in the registry. It accounts for the 1,089,000 people who have overcome vulnerabilities related to housing, family reunification, documentation, nutrition, health, education and income; and the 813,000 who reportedly have only overcome vulnerabilities related to housing.
IDMC’s estimate of the number of new displacements in 2018 is a projection performed by the UN’s Colombia Information Management and Analysis Unit (UMAIC), based on RUV data from previous years.