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As many as 5.8 million people were internally displaced in the Americas at the end of 2012, forced to flee their homes as a result of armed conflict, criminal violence and human rights violations. Despite changing situations at the country level, the overall figure for the region increased from the previous year.
As of March 2013, the Colombian government had not published official figures either for new displacements during 2012 or for the total number of IDPs in the country, because of difficulties in updating its national registry. There were, however, reportedly 4.9 million people registered as IDPs as of December 2012. As the figure is cumulative, it does not account for the fact that some IDPs may have returned, integrated locally or settled elsewhere in the country. Nor does it include people displaced by armed groups which have emerged since the demobilisation of paramilitary organisations between 2003 and 2006. The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Consultoría ara los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento or CODHES), the main civil society organisation monitoring displacement in Colombia and which also produces cumulative figures, has not published its totals for 2012 either.
In Mexico, the total of around 160,000 IDPs in the country included people who have been displaced by drug-cartel violence since 2007 and others living in protracted displacement in the state of Chiapas since the late 1990s.
In Guatemala and Peru, people were still internally displaced long after the end of the conflicts they fled. In Guatemala, little was known about the number or situation of people displaced during the country’s internal conflict which ended 16 years ago. In Peru many people displaced during the early 1990s by the conflict between the government and the Shining Path and Túpac Amaru revolutionary groups, had still not found durable solutions to their situation.
As was the case in the previous year, people were newly displaced by conflict and violence in Colombia and Mexico in 2012, while others continued to live in protracted displacement.
Colombia’s internal armed conflict forced around 230,000 people to flee their homes during the year. The figure is provisional, however, because the government faced significant challenges in updating its registry for IDPs, and it does not fully reflect the reality on the ground. Additionally, people displaced by post-demobilisation armed groups, which operate as criminal and drug-trafficking gangs with remnants of the extreme-right ideology of their paramilitary predecessors, are not counted or registered as IDPs. These groups were nevertheless responsible for a significant proportion of new displacement in Colombia, according to civil society sources.
No new figures for displacement in Mexico were made available in 2012, but census information correlated with data on homicides and violent crimes showed that criminal violence caused displacement in the states most affected by drug cartel activity in recent years, namely Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. The link between drug cartel violence and displacement was even clearer at the municipal level. Census data showed that within the states most affected, the 100 municipalities with the highest levels of violence experienced the highest levels of population loss. When the effect of other causes of migration, including economic and demographic conditions and urbanisation were accounted for, people left violent municipalities at a rate 4.5 higher than they left non-violent municipalities.
The sketchy nature of the data serves as a strong indication that the Mexican government should make systematic efforts to gather more complete information.
In addition, sudden-onset natural hazards caused new displacement throughout the region. In Colombia, heavy seasonal rains attributed to the weather phenomenon known as La Niña caused major flooding across much of the country in April.
More than 60,000 people were displaced, and the floods also increased the vulnerability of people already displaced by conflict. In Mexico, an earthquake in March in the state of Guerrero caused displacement, and a storm in August forced people to flee their homes in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Veracruz states. In Haiti, where more than 320,000 people are still living in displacement following the 2010 earthquake, around 80,000 more were displaced by floods and storms in 2012.
Threats to physical security and integrity were the main cause of displacement in Colombia and Mexico, the only two countries in the region that experienced new displacements in 2012. People’s physical security was affected in a number of ways, including confrontations between different armed groups and between armed groups and government forces in both rural and urban areas; direct threats by armed groups against the civilian population; forced recruitment and the threat of it, which particularly affected younger people; and pressure on the civilian population to take part in the illegal activities of non-state armed groups.
The launch of a peace process between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC) in October created an important opportunity for peace. The talks, however, have taken place amid ongoing hostilities as both parties reportedly sought to use violence to consolidate their negotiating positions, making the security situation and its humanitarian consequences worse.
IDPs’ access to the basic necessities of life is extremely limited in both Colombia and Mexico, despite their being middle income countries. Mexico is a member of the G20 and held the organisation’s presidency in 2012, while Colombia ranks as the world’s 31st largest economy. Where data was available, it showed that IDPs’ access to housing and income generating opportunities remained extremely poor in Colombia, and that they had worse access to social services than the rest of the population.
In Mexico, census data showed that people who move from violent to non-violent municipalities in search of safety had less access to livelihood opportunities, education and housing than the local population. Data also showed that in some cases, people displaced from cities had protection needs related to the property they left behind.
As in previous years, displacement affected a disproportionate number of people from minority populations in the region. In Colombia, many Afro-Colombian and indigenous people live in rural areas where most of the confrontations between armed opposition groups and government forces take place, and which have the highest rates of displacement. In the Mexican state of Chiapas, indigenous people make up the majority of IDPs living in protracted displacement, which is also predominantly the case in Peru and Guatemala.
Prospects for durable solutions
In Colombia, the process of implementing the 2011 Victims’ Law, which aims to provide redress for IDPs and other victims of violence, moved forward. It was hampered, however, by a number of obstacles including a lack of financial resources and delays in the appointment of essential staff such as judges. The land restitution process faced violent resistance, and more than 700 leaders claiming their land rights received death threats.
In Peru, a reparations process has been in the pipeline for several years, and it was delayed again in 2012. Individual reparations are now due to start in 2013, but collective reparations have been postponed several times already.
Of all the countries in the region, Colombia has made the most progress in integrating IDPs and their needs into structural long-term projects, including social protection programmes for vulnerable populations and development plans.
In Colombia, despite continuing improvements in the government’s response, which was by far the most advanced in the region, programmes continued to fall short of meeting the scale of IDPs’ needs. After declaring in 2004 that the government’s inadequate response to internal displacement amounted to an “unconstitutional state of affairs”, the Constitutional Court continued its oversight of the response in 2012. In an important ruling in September which strongly affirms the importance of the property restitution process for IDPs, it held that the killings of human rights activists and land restitution claimants were to be treated as victims of crimes against humanity.
In Mexico, the state of Chiapas adopted a law on the protection of IDPs in February 2012. The law, the first of its kind in the country, was drafted with the support of various UN agencies and civil society organisations, and incorporates the Guiding Principles. In December, the same party that led the adoption of the Chiapas law introduced a bill in the Mexican senate to establish legislation on the prevention of internal displacement, the assistance of IDPs and the facilitation of durable solutions. This was a welcome initiative in a country that still lacks a national framework on internal displacement.
In Colombia, the only country monitored by IDMC in the region to have implemented the cluster system for emergency responses, the international humanitarian community continued to coordinate its activities through six clusters.