Colombia's displaced youth sing out for own space

News Stories, 19 May 2011

© UNHCR/F. Fontanini
Tunes on turf: Members of This is My Territory film their first music video in Lleras, a slum in Buenaventura on Colombia's Pacific Coast.

BUENAVENTURA, Colombia, May 19 (UNHCR) They take to the streets in large numbers, hips squared, heads cocked and looking tough in sunglasses and baseball caps. There is tension in the air as the other slum-dwellers watch from the second floor, unsure of what to expect.

Then the music blasts and the camera starts rolling. This is My Territory, a music group of 27 young Afro-Colombians, is making its first music video with help from the UN refugee agency. Everything about this production is home-grown, from the original song recorded on someone's old laptop, to the makeshift studio soundproofed by egg cartons, and the filming location in the local barrio (neighbourhood).

The band was formed and named after a two-day urban music festival last December. The event provided a platform for more than 300 youth to organize themselves against violence in Buenaventura, the largest port on Colombia's Pacific Coast and a hub for people displaced by clashes between illegal armed groups in the surrounding areas.

Ubaldino, a 28-year-old band member, was displaced in 2006 after killings near the Cajambre river. "People were threatened. If they didn't submit to the will of illegal armed groups, their end was written. It was better to escape and lose our crops, and start from scratch," he said. "My mother died of a stroke shortly after because her life changed completely and she suffered a lot."

Father Adriel, who has worked with the youth of Lleras barrio in Buenaventura for five years, noted, "The armed conflict has disrupted the family structure and very few of them have parents. They have always struggled in order to achieve something, even a daily meal."

Many of the displaced youth have casual jobs as bus drivers, cobblers, barbers, fishermen or construction workers. Not all of them had the chance to finish school because they lacked money or had to help support their large families. They live in the slums of Llera, on land reclaimed from the sea and filled in by trash, shells, mangrove, mud, gravel and cement.

These realities are reflected in their songs. "Music means everything to me," said Angel, the band leader. "I've played since I was eight. The first time I was displaced I slept in a tree and lived on a diet of bread, water and brown sugar. Sometimes there are no opportunities for young people in my region. This is what I was obliged to do, [there was] no other option."

Land and identity are a key part of their message. "Territory is life and life isn't possible without territory," sings the band in one of its songs. Band member Jason, 22, explained, "This is My Territory is a group of young people who have been through hunger, violence, everything, but despite that we are here together because of the music. Music helps us to transmit messages to people and our message is that there are young people fighting for their land."

The armed conflict has made it more difficult in some areas for young people to use parks and sports venues. Buenaventura's youth are thus eager to participate in the construction of living spaces and public projects to defend the territory and rights of communities.

"We are part of an ethnic [Afro-Colombian] group that has special characteristics. We have our own culture and traditions, we share a common history and keep our identity," said one band member, echoing the group's views. "Consultation is important. We must guarantee the right of free participation and decision-making to develop ourselves and the community and thereby improve living conditions."

Some 75,500 Colombians are currently displaced in Buenaventura from along the rivers of the Pacific Coast and from different neighbourhoods within Buenaventura.

By Francesca Fontanini in Buenaventura, Colombia




UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

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

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

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