In its yearly report (2010), the UN refugee agency UNHCR counted 3.3 million internally displaced people in Colombia. The Colombian NGO CODHES estimates there were 4.9 million displaced Colombians during the last 25 years. Displaced people wait in a queue to be given aid in the government office dedicated to displacement (Accion Social) in Puerto Asís, Putumayo dept., Colombia.
An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to flee their home but who, unlike a refugee, remains within their country's borders. Ciudad Bolívar, a shanty town in the south of Bogota, where internally displaced people from all over the country live, Colombia.
Most of the displacement takes place in the remote rural areas in the departments of Nariño, Chocó, Cauca, Meta, Guaviare and Antioquia. Inhabitants of the tropical regions may be found living in the cold mountains then. A displaced woman from Chocó department lives with her children in a wooden house in the slum of Ciudad Bolívar, Bogota, Colombia.
The south of the country and the Pacific coast are the worst affected regions. Afro-Colombian communities and those of indigenous origin are especially vulnerable. A displaced girl stands in front of a wooden house inside the poor neigbourhood of Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that between 70 and 80% of all internally displaced people are women and children. A displaced family carry barrels with drinking water in their canoe inside the stilt house area in Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
Searching for a refuge, the displaced people move to big cities like Bogota, Medellin or Cali. They usually end up in large slums living in the waste-material-made houses, with no work opportunities. A displaced man carries a used TV on his shoulder in the slum of Ciudad Bolívar, Bogota, Colombia.
In spite of the increased military pressure on FARC initiated by the former President Alvaro Uribe, displacement continues. According to CODHES, in 2009, around 286.000 people were newly displaced. Displaced boys push the canoe over the garbage patch in the stilt house area in Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
Many displaced children face the risk of health problems caused by inadequate living conditions in the shanty towns together with a lack of food. The UNICEF estimates that 70% of displaced children do not attend school. A displaced girl with her baby sister looks from the window in the shanty town of Ciudad Bolívar, Bogota, Colombia.
Armed conflict (between groups involved in the drug production and government) and related violence like murders, threats, sexual violence, presence of land mines and forced child recruitment are the principal reasons of displacement in Colombia. A displaced woman lives in a wooden house in the stilt house area in Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
Nukak Maku, a nomadic hunter gatherer tribe, was displaced by FARC rebels (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). Given their nomadic habits, they are often accused by armed groups of acting as informers for the enemy groups or for the government. A displaced Indian boy (Nukak Maku) plays with his monkey pet in a refugee settlement close to San Jose del Guaviare, Meta dept., Colombia.
The UNHCR reports the increase of intra-urban displacement within the large cities like Bogota. People who live in the city outskirts have often been displaced more times, mainly because of the strong presence of armed groups in these zones. A displaced man stands on the edge of a hill looking out on the valley where slums of Ciudad Bolívar lie, Bogota, Colombia.
Colombian conflict involves leftist guerrillas FARC-ELN, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug cartels. All armed groups fight to control thousands of hectares of jungle in the remote territories of the country, where illegal crops (coca) can be grown. Displaced men look from the window in the stilt house village close to Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
Displaced people have virtually no chance of recovering their land and rebuilding their lives in the country. Hidden in the inaccessible neigbourhoods surrounding the large cities, they struggle for a meager existence everyday. A displaced girl, holding a baby on her breast, washes the clothes in the stilt house area in Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.
Although thousands of Colombians are caught up in the armed civil conflict, their fate has been forgotten. A displaced woman holds her child in the stilt house village close to Tumaco, Nariño dept., Colombia.

Forgotten exodus: Colombia Displaced

Colombia – May-July 2010

With nearly fifty years of armed conflict, Colombia has the highest number of civil war refugees in the world. During the last ten years of the bloody civil war more than 3 million people have been forced to abandon their lands and to leave their homes due to the violence. Internally displaced people (IDPs) come predominantly from remote rural areas, where most of the battles between illegal armed groups and government forces takes place. Fighting to dominate the drug trade, the violent clashes between leftist guerrillas FARC-ELN and right-wing paramilitary groups (formerly AUC, now “Aguilas Negras”) cause thousands of Colombians to flee every year.

Since the Colombian authorities are not able to provide security and the rule of the law in the distant areas of the country, armed groups come and install the justice of the gun: obedience or death. With no right to take their properties, displaced families usually have a couple of hours to run away. Carrying just personal belongings, they search for a refuge in the outskirts of the big cities like Bogota, Cali or Medellín. The majority of runaways are peasants with no education and no urban experience, thus they inevitably end up in large slums living in wooden shacks with no water supply, no sewers and illegally tapped electricity.

Although the former President Alvaro Uribe increased the military pressure on FARC and the Colombian government created an agency dedicated to displacement (Acción Social), this often overlooked and forgotten humanitarian crisis is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Displaced people living in shanty towns are threaten (by both guerilla and paramilitary urban informers) not to talk about what they witnessed. Others wait many months till the authorities acknowledge their evidence and give them displacement status.

Lost in the chaos of the neverending Colombian conflict, they wake up with constant fear of violence. They live on the run.

Photography by Jan Sochor
Music by Mary Hellen – “Ver”, Obra Del Tiempo (2003)