14 May 2024

Colombia - Changing conflict dynamics still disproportionately affect most vulnerable

Conflict dynamics in Colombia have changed since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but the same regions and communities continued to report the highest internal displacement figures in 2023. Based on government data, more than half of the internal displacements associated with conflict and violence took place in the Pacific region, where African-Colombian and indigenous communities continued to be disproportionately affected.

The Pacific region, made up of the departments of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Valle del Cauca, is strategic for the criminal activities of non-state armed groups (NSAGs). Its rich natural resources, vast littoral and remoteness facilitate drug production and trafficking, and illegal logging and mining. The region’s borders with Ecuador and Panama have also fostered increasingly lucrative human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Half a million people are estimated to have crossed the border with Panama through the Darién gap in 2023, compared with an annual average of fewer than 11,000 in the previous decade. Migrants face significant protection risks on the perilous journey to cross the border. There is also increasing evidence of migrants being victims of violent attacks by NSAGs.

IDMC 2024 GRID Spotlight map

Across the region, local populations continue to bear the brunt of the conflict’s impacts. After the demobilisation of most FARC members since 2016, other NSAGs have fought to expand and consolidate their economic and territorial presence, especially in rural areas. The state’s limited presence has allowed them to exert control over communities, pushing them to flee or trapping them in forced confinement.

Displacement and confinement might appear to be opposites, but they share some triggers and impacts. Both confined and displaced communities tend to lack access to humanitarian aid and some of their needs go unmet, particularly in cases of individual displacement (fewer than ten people) and in areas where fighting and insecurity persist. Confinement often results from the presence of unexploded ordnance and landmine contamination. Some prolonged confinements have led to subsequent large waves of displacement when NSAGs have lifted their restrictions, fuelling further vulnerability and instability.

As with displacement, African-Colombian and indigenous communities in the Pacific region are also disproportionately affected by confinement. The differentiated impacts are clear in the data disaggregated by ethnic group, which shows that 62 per cent of the displacements in the region and 94 per cent of the cases of confinement were of African-Colombian or indigenous communities. In Nariño, the department where most displacements were recorded in Colombia in 2023, 75 per cent were from African-Colombian or indigenous communities. This is despite their representing over 33 per cent of the department’s population.

Across the Pacific, assassinations, forced recruitment, threats and attacks on schools are among the reasons vulnerable communities have been forced to flee. Their displacement harms, in turn, their social fabric and resilience and slows down implementation of the 2016 agreement, which has an ethnic chapter calling for the respect of indigenous and African-Colombian communities’ land rights and security guarantees. Acknowledging that implementation has fallen behind, the office of the country’s vice president has identified nine priority areas for these communities, including access to land, development programmes and stronger self-protection mechanisms.

The Victim’s Registry, a monitoring and reporting mechanism that tracks victims of the conflict, including IDPs, is useful to provide key information to understand displacement dynamics and the different impacts on certain population groups. Other mechanisms including the Monitoring, Promotion, and Verification Commission for the Implementation of the Final Agreement, which was put in place by the government in October 2022, are equally useful in following up on the situation in different territories and communities as the basis for prioritising humanitarian aid and reparations.

For references and additional information, please see the full report.