For five decades, Colombia has faced one of the world’s most severe internal displacement situations caused by conflict and violence. In 2016, a peace agreement was signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s biggest armed group, putting an end to a conflict that had lasted more than 50 years. This was a highly significant development and a prerequisite for achieving durable solutions for people displaced by the conflict. However, obstacles to durable solutions remain, and include victims’ compensation, land and property restitution, as well as implementation of the different points agreed upon in the peace deal related to issues such as integral agricultural reform, truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.
Further, internal displacement in the country continues as other illegal armed groups remain active and violate a wide range of human rights. About 139,000 new displacements due to conflict and violence were recorded in 2017. In addition, sudden-onset disasters and large-scale land acquisitions for development projects have added to the complexity of displacement in the country.
Discontent arising from economic inequality and political exclusion, corruption and poor governance, unequal distribution of land and resources, and territorial marginalisation in rural areas led to violence and armed conflict in Colombia in the mid-1960s. Colombia’s five-decade long conflict involved government security forces, left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups, and organised crime rings. It was began mostly in rural areas, and over time spread throughout the country. During the conflict, non-state armed actors were especially active in marginalised 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. The 2016 peace deal lays out a plan for comprehensive rural reform which includes details on land restitution and the land rights of farmers. The extent to which land reforms will be successfully implemented and communicated to the population is yet to be seen.
Moreover, the growth of the drug trade and the resulting “war on drugs” between the government, cartels and other armed groups have been major drivers of violence and displacement since the early 1970s. Fumigation campaigns to eradicate coca plantations, coupled with counter-insurgency operations and a failure to prevent wider environmental damage or provide meaningful economic alternatives, especially to poor farmers growing the coca plants, further fuelled conflict.
Locals have also been threatened, displaced and killed by armed groups that have taken control of mines, which are important sources of revenue, especially to mitigate the volatility of cocaine prices. Private-sector coal mining has also directly displaced people in Colombia through land acquisition and indirectly through environmental contamination.
With a vast part of its territory covered by the Andean mountain range and areas of high seismic potential and volcanic activity, Colombia is also highly prone to natural hazards. Cities, especially the mountainous capital Bogotá, are at particularly high risk of earthquakes, floods and landslides, while poor cities on the Pacific coastline are exposed to tsunamis. Rapid and unplanned urbanisation, dense informal settlements in hazard-prone areas and a significant amount of constructions built in violation of safety regulations have increased disaster risk in the country.
Consequently, disasters have triggered displacement. Sudden-onset disasters, mainly arising from floods and earthquakes, displaced tens of thousands of people every year between 2008 and 2017. However, there have been some outlier events, such as the El Nino phenomenon in 2010, which led to the displacement of three million people and unprecedented levels of flooding and landslides throughout the country.
People have fled their homes for numerous reasons, including conflict, extortion, anti-personnel mines, threats and pressure to collaborate with armed groups, forced recruitment of children by armed groups, and sexual and gender-based violence. The conflict was marked by gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture committed by both state and non-state actors.
Displacing civilians allowed the parties to the conflict to gain territorial control, seize valuable land, weaken civilian support for their adversaries, and control markets, drug trade routes and illegal extractive practices, including mining and logging. Displacement is therefore both a result of armed conflict and a strategy of the parties to clear land and extend their control and economic gains. It is estimated that more than 4.5 million hectares of land were abandoned or seized during the conflict.
A weak state presence, corruption, informal land rights, and high levels of poverty and vulnerability have also contributed to land dispossession and displacement.
There are no displacement camps in Colombia. IDPs have mostly sought shelter in towns and cities, and they live scattered among the general population, mainly with the urban poor in informal settlements on the periphery of cities. Displacement within and between urban settings started to grow from around 2005 onwards and included repeated displacement of populations as paramilitary or criminal groups attempted to control poor areas.
Ninety-two per cent of Colombia’s municipalities have had IDPs flee to or from their jurisdictions. about a third of all people displaced by conflict in Colombia live in departments along the Pacific coast, including Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Antioquia, Cauca and Chocó. Some have been confined to or endure restricted mobility due to hostilities, landmines and other threats. A number of IDPs previously displaced by conflict have been displaced again by disasters.
Around 452,000 IDPs have returned home with the assistance of the government. However, little is known about the success of these returns and comprehensive data on assisted and non-assisted returns is not available. What is clear is that many challenges to sustainable return 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.
The Pacific Region and the Caribbean had the largest number of people affected by natural hazards, primarily floods, in 2017. There is a gap in information on the movement patterns of people displaced by development projects and disasters following their initial displacement. While local governments gather data on displacement, the Unidad Nacional de Gestión de Riesgos y Desastres (Colombia’s National Disaster Management Agency) only requests and publishes information about the number of people affected and the houses damaged and destroyed by disasters.
IDPs continue to face protection concerns, including protection from armed conflict and widespread violence, lack of access to agricultural and non-agricultural livelihoods, and lack of formal employment and income generating opportunities. Progress on land restitution has been extremely slow. African-Colombian and indigenous peoples are at particularly high risk of displacement because their land is often located in rural, resource-rich areas that are targeted by armed groups. Securing recognition of these minorities’ land rights has been particularly difficult.
Additionally, economic impacts have been considerable. The government estimates that between 1980 and 2013, on average, 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product was spent on some aspect of internal displacement. This spending reflects the government’s increasing support to those displaced by the conflict, but it is important to highlight that financial support has not been constant over the years and has varied across different territories.
Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, including IDPs, are logged in the Registro Único de Víctimas (RUV), the national registry of victims. The registry includes all people displaced by the conflict and remains the most comprehensive dataset available on IDPs in Colombia.
The RUV dataset is the basis for IDMC’s estimated conflict stock figure for Colombia. As the database includes all people displaced since the start of the conflict, it may not accurately represent the number of those currently living in situations of displacement following the peace agreement signing in 2016. For that reason, together with the RUV, we revised our 2017 stock figure, in order to find a better measure of people currently living in displacement. We excluded people who have died and people who have overcome housing-related vulnerability as they have started to move towards a durable solution to their displacement. For the 2017 new displacement figure, however, IDMC relied on a projection calculated by the UN's Colombia Information Management and Analysis Unit, which is led by OCHA, and triangulated that data with the figures provided to IDMC by civil society organisations. For disaster data, IDMC uses media report estimates that usually quote local government reports.
|Displacement type||IDPs (Stock)||New Displacement (Flow)||Returnees (Stock)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Country/territory - admin 0||Country/territory - admin 0||Country/territory - admin 0|
|Geographical coverage||All relevant areas covered||All relevant areas covered||All relevant areas covered|
|Frequency of reporting||Upon request||Upon request||Every 6 months|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||Good triangulation||No Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||Partial||No||Partial|
|Data on returns||Partial||No||Partial|
|Data on local integration||Partial||No||Partial|
|Data on deaths||Yes||No||Yes|
|Data on births||No||No||No|
IDMC's estimates for Colombia are based on the Victim's Registry (RUV), which keeps record of all victims of the decades-long civil war. Since the RUV only counts the total amount of IDPS since 1985, IDMC has partnered with them to obtain a Stock figure by discounting people who have died, and people who have moved towards a durable solution. The latter (Returns and Provisional Solutions) are approximated based on some of the RUV's social and economic indicators. The New Displacement Figure is a projection by the UN's Colombia Information Management and Analysis Unit based on RUV data.