On the starting line: Colombia launches Run for Life campaign

News Stories, 28 July 2008

© UNHCR/B.Heger
Internally displaced families, like this one in the Altos de la Florida shanty town in Bogotá, often live in desperate conditions.

BOGOTA, Monday July 28 (UNHCR) UNHCR and 10 other partners have launched a nationwide campaign to help victims of forced displacement in Colombia.

The internet-based Corre por la Vida (Running for Life) campaign was launched in Bogota and Medellín, the country's second largest city, with a symbolic race by the campaign's organizers. The coalition brings together 11 partners working in the area of forced displacement, including the presidential agency Acción Social and the national association of displaced people, as well as some of the country's most influential media and UNHCR.

The campaign compares forced displacement to a long-distance race, which starts when people have no choice but to flee from conflict, violence or persecution.

The race has many hurdles along the way, from finding a new home and a reliable source of income to reaching long-term security and stability. The internal displacement crisis in Colombia is one of the largest and oldest in the world.

Stressing that displacement is always forced and that nobody chooses to "run for their life", Corre por la Vida seeks to galvanize the Colombian public and private sector to join in efforts to help. The message is that every Colombian can take action to contribute to a positive outcome.

By visiting www.correporlavida.org, the participants will get practical information on how to help, examples of successful local initiatives, and testimonies from displaced people. The site also includes a special section for private businesses aimed at encouraging corporate leaders and entrepreneurs to take an active role in addressing the crisis.

While offering basic information right from the start, Corre por la Vida has been designed to encourage visitors to participate in its construction by posting their own ideas and suggestions for improvements.

The campaign builds on the success of the 2007 Year of the Rights of Displaced People in Colombia campaign, which resulted in the adoption of a new law in favour of internally displaced people (IDPs). It addresses some identified weaknesses like the gap between legislation and effective implementation and low participation of the private sector in the national response.

Colombia enjoys some of the most sophisticated legislation on internal displacement in the world and the government has significantly increased its budget to assist and prevent forced displacement. However, challenges remain. There were some 250,000 registered new cases of forced displacement last year and more than half of all displaced people live below the poverty line. The private sector has a crucial role to play in providing socio-economic stability to this sector of the population.

The Corre por la Vida campaign was developed with the support of the European Commission in Colombia.

By Marie-Hélène Verney in Bogota, Colombia

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UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

After more than forty years of internal armed conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Well over two million people have been forced to flee their homes; many of them have left remote rural areas to take refuge in the relative safety of the cities.

Displaced families often end up living in slum areas on the outskirts of the big cities, where they lack even the most basic services. Just outside Bogota, tens of thousands of displaced people live in the shantytowns of Altos de Cazuca and Altos de Florida, with little access to health, education or decent housing. Security is a problem too, with irregular armed groups and gangs controlling the shantytowns, often targeting young people.

UNHCR is working with the authorities in ten locations across Colombia to ensure that the rights of internally displaced people are fully respected – including the rights to basic services, health and education, as well as security.

Colombia: Life in the Barrios

Indigenous people in Colombia

There are about a million indigenous people in Colombia. They belong to 80 different groups and make up one of the world's most diverse indigenous heritages. But the internal armed conflict is taking its toll on them.

Like many Colombians, indigenous people often have no choice but to flee their lands to escape violence. Forced displacement is especially tragic for them because they have extremely strong links to their ancestral lands. Often their economic, social and cultural survival depends on keeping these links alive.

According to Colombia's national indigenous association ONIC, 18 of the smaller groups are at risk of disappearing. UNHCR is working with them to support their struggle to stay on their territories or to rebuild their lives when they are forced to flee.

UNHCR also assists indigenous refugees in neighbouring countries like Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. UNHCR is developing a regional strategy to better address the specific needs of indigenous people during exile.

Indigenous people in Colombia

Panama's Hidden Refugees

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Panama's Hidden Refugees

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