The internal armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations; competition and armed confrontation between illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control; confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs; and forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment. Some NGOs complained that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale economic projects in rural areas also contributed to displacement. The Land and Victims’ Law provides for the restitution of land stolen by illegal armed groups from IDPs and other victims. The government estimated the law would require more than $20 billion and a decade to implement.
Estimates of the numbers of IDPs varied. Accion Social registered 143,116 new displacements during the year, a 7 percent increase from the same period in 2010.
DPS statistics showed that new displacements primarily occurred in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present, such as the Bajo Cauca area of the department of Antioquia, as well as in the departments of Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Meta. According to the DPS, during the year Antioquia registered the highest number of IDPs (29,170), followed by Valle del Cauca (22,608), Narino (21,571), Cauca (13,647), Cordoba (10,257), Caqueta (8,066), Choco (7,033) and Tolima (5,549). The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) estimated that 259,146 persons were displaced during the year. According to CODHES the departments that received the highest number of IDPs during the year were Antioquia (64,043), Narino (28,694), Cauca (19,549), Valle del Cauca (17,489), and Cordoba (10,561).
The government has registered an accumulated total of 3.9 million persons displaced since 1997 (including those displaced in years before the registration system was established), while CODHES estimated that more than five million persons had been displaced as a result of the conflict since 1985. Accion Social attributed a large part of the growth in cumulative IDP registrations in recent years to a 2008 court order requiring the government to include displacements from all previous years in the national IDP registry. The court order also prohibited the government from removing an individual from the IDP registry regardless of how many years had passed since displacement. Because of the continuing nature of the conflict and cumulative nature of government IDP registrations, the country had one of the largest populations of registered IDPs in the world.
The government’s national registry included registered IDPs whose applications for recognition had been accepted under defined criteria, while CODHES estimated new displacements based on information from the media, civil society, and fieldwork. CODHES also included as IDPs an undetermined number of coca and opium poppy producers who migrated in response to governmental drug eradication efforts, as well as those who migrated due to poor economic conditions and food insecurity resulting from the armed conflict.
Despite improvements in the government registration system, international organizations and NGOs remained concerned about underregistration of IDPs. CODHES cited the government’s denial of many registrations, lack of access to the registration system in some areas, and fear of retaliation from illegal armed groups as obstacles to full registration. The Monitoring Commission for Public Policy on Forced Displacement, a civil society body that evaluates and reports on internal displacement, noted important advances in the inclusion of IDPs in the national system, but it expressed concern over the rising rate of refusals and what it characterized as a 29 percent underregistration rate. During the year Accion Social refused approximately 28 percent of IDP registrations as ineligible, compared with a 31 percent refusal rate in 2010. Accion Social reported that the relatively higher refusal rate in recent years was a result of improved verification of IDPs. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.
FARC and ELN guerrillas and organized criminal gangs continued to use forced displacement to gain control over strategic or economically valuable territory, weaken their opponents’ base of support, and undermine government control and authority. Illegal armed groups also used land mines and roadblocks to confine entire villages to protect illicit crops and prevent pursuit by state security forces. The FARC, ELN, and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents often forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against illicit crop eradication efforts and sometimes forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over the increase in urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.
According to DPS statistics, during the year the government registered 10,550 persons as intraurban IDPs. The Medellin Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that there were 8,434 intraurban IDPs in Medellin through October. The Medellin ombudsman did not use the same registration criteria as the DPS. The report cited threats, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, violence, and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement.
During the year the government registered 4,961 new IDPs who identified themselves as indigenous and 34,851 who identified themselves as Afro-Colombian. Indigenous persons constituted 3 percent of new IDPs registered by the government and Afro-Colombians 23 percent. The government reported that indigenous people made up 2.5 percent and Afro-Colombians 9 percent of the total IDP population. The ICRC and UNHCR reported that indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups were disproportionately affected by displacement in some departments.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system. In 2010 ONIC Director Javier Sanchez told the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights that at least 64 indigenous communities risked extinction as a result of the conflict, the primary cause for the displacement of indigenous peoples. CODHES estimated that the departments with the highest level of displacement of indigenous persons included Putumayo, Cordoba, Choco, Cauca, Narino, Caqueta, Meta, and Guaviare. The local NGO Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) reported in 2010 that 76 percent of displaced who registered did not answer the question about ethnicity; therefore, official statistics underrepresented the impact of displacement on Afro-Colombian communities. AFRODES estimated that Afro-Colombians made up as much as 25 percent of the total displaced population.
AFRODES stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs also repeatedly expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.
The government, international humanitarian assistance organizations, and civil society groups observed that mass displacements continued, representing 11 percent of the total 143,116 persons displaced during the year according to government statistics. The National Observatory for Displacement reported 80 mass displacement events affecting more than 19,000 persons during the year, 15,782 of whom were included in the national registry, compared with 58 mass displacement events affecting 8,971 persons in 2010. According to the DPS, the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Antioquia, Narino, Cordoba, Cauca, and Choco. CODHES reported 58 mass displacement events during the year, affecting approximately 26,900 persons, primarily in the departments of Cauca, Narino, Cordoba, and Antioquia.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UNHCR, and other international organizations reported on mass displacements in other departments throughout the year. For example, in February and early March, approximately 800 Afro-Colombians were forced to displace from rural communities near Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca, after illegal armed groups perpetrated a series of violent events including killings, the forced disappearance of a community leader and her husband, and threats. In early August 168 individuals from 62 families were forced from rural communities in Pradera, Antioquia, after the FARC attacked army forces in the area.
CODHES also reported that at least nine IDP community and land-rights leaders were killed during the year, bringing the number of such leaders killed since 2002 to 54. On June 8, unknown assailants shot and killed Afro-Colombian IDP community leader and land tenure advocate Ana Fabricia Cordoba on a bus in Medellin. Cordoba had previously reported receiving threats related to her advocacy, and the government stated that Cordoba had not complied with the police-conducted risk analysis required to grant her government protection. On December 17, unknown assailants killed Alexa Gomez Polaina, president of Weavers of Life, an association that advocates the rights of displaced people. Investigation of both cases continued at year’s end, as did investigations of similar cases in previous years. On December 4, President Santos announced that the government would offer financial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who threatened or killed land-rights leaders.
The government budgeted 1.5 trillion pesos (approximately $776 million) to assist IDPs during the year. Assistance to registered IDPs was delivered through Accion Social, the ICBF, the Ministry of Social Protection (MSP), and other governmental ministries and agencies. During the year Accion Social budgeted approximately 815 billion pesos ($421 million) for direct IDP assistance, providing emergency food assistance to 600,000 persons, primarily IDPs. Accion Social also coordinated the return of approximately 19,965 displaced households during the year. International organizations and NGOs acknowledged the government’s significant progress in improving programs and budgets for IDP assistance but maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, housing, income generation, and land restitution needed more improvement. CODHES estimated that more than half of displaced women were not registered and therefore were not receiving any emergency assistance. In 2010 Accion Social, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the CNP established a specialized unit to investigate and prosecute cases of forced displacement and disappearances. The unit included 22 prosecutors from the Prosecutor General’s Office, 44 prosecutor and judicial assistants, and 85 investigators from the National Judicial Police. At year’s end the displacement unit was working to transfer approximately 50,000 pending complaints from other units in the Prosecutor General’s Office for possible investigation.
Assistance organizations pointed out that emergency response to mass displacements was more difficult and costly to mount, because most displacements took place in remote locations; however, the speed and effectiveness of the response continued to improve. Accion Social and other government agencies began response to most mass displacement events immediately. International organizations and civil society reported that a lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Intense fighting and insecurity in conflict zones, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from accessing newly displaced populations. The government took steps with international organizations and NGOs to improve the registration system and reduce the wait time, including prioritizing the vulnerable cases, holding registration fairs in high-displacement areas, and deploying more resources and equipment.
Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, many IDPs continued to live in poverty with unhygienic conditions and limited access to health care, education, or employment. In 2004 the Constitutional Court ordered the government to reformulate its IDP programs and policies, including improving the registration system. Since then the court has issued more than 100 follow-up decisions, some addressing specific cross-cutting issues such as gender, disabled persons, and ethnic minorities, and others analyzing specific policy components such as land and housing.
In its March 16 report to the Constitutional Court, Accion Social cited improvements in institutional and territorial coordination, enhanced registration systems, involvement of IDP and community authorities and associations, increased IDP policy and program budget, and improved monitoring and evaluation of assistance and rights. The Monitoring Commission for Public Policy on Forced Displacement acknowledged some of the improvements cited in the government response but asserted that significant gaps remained.
On October 13, the Constitutional Court issued another follow-up decision that recognized significant progress in health and education but identified significant shortcomings, including in the areas of displacement prevention, housing, and income generation. The court also acknowledged the importance of the new Land and Victims’ Law and asked the government for a complete report on how IDPs’ rights would be addressed under the new legal framework and the budget required for that purpose.
Several international organizations and domestic nonprofit groups, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Food Program, ICRC, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.
Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders as a result of the internal armed conflict. The UNHCR reported in its 2010 Global Trends report released in June that Colombia was the country of origin for 113,233 refugees and 59,954 asylum seekers, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. In 2010 the governments of Colombia and Ecuador formed a bilateral refugee commission to discuss the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, including plans for voluntary returns. In September Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin announced that the government would contribute $500,000 to UNHCR Ecuador for programs in support of Colombian refugees in Ecuador. She also announced a contribution of $200,000 to the IOM to support voluntary returns of Colombian refugees from Ecuador.