Colombia: New UNHCR field offices open as 2007 declared "Year of the Rights of Displaced People"
UNHCR is opening two more field offices in Colombia to help cope with the humanitarian crisis facing some 3 million people displaced by violence within the country. This brings to 12 the number of UNHCR locations in Colombia and coincides with the launch of a nationwide campaign to make 2007 the "Year of the Rights of Displaced People." Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
The two new offices are located in the city of Medellín, Colombia's second largest city, and in Villavicencio, to the south of Bogota. Both cities are home to large numbers of displaced people.
Medellín is the capital of the department of Antioquia, which has traditionally been one of the regions most affected by the conflict. In the past decade alone, more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee violence there. Like elsewhere in Colombia, many have left their homes in rural areas, where the conflict is at its worst, to take refuge in the city.
In Meta, where Villavicencio is located, more than 64,000 people are registered as displaced. However, the authorities acknowledge that the real numbers could be much higher since many people have had no access to registration. The office there will serve as a base for UNHCR to cover the south-eastern parts of the country, where until now it has had little presence due to the remoteness of the area.
Colombia's ongoing armed conflict, which started in the 1960s, last year forced some 110,000 people to flee their homes, according to provisional government figures. This included around 13,000 in Antioquia and 9,000 in Meta. NGOs have a much higher national estimate of around 200,000 new cases of forced displacement in 2006.
UNHCR has been working in Colombia since 1997 to back up the authorities' response to the displacement crisis. In 2007, we will use the platform of the "Year of the Rights of Displaced People" to raise public awareness and lobby for displaced people's rights. The Colombian Parliament is currently considering passing a law in support of the campaign's objectives.
UNHCR's budget for Colombia in 2007 is $14 million, up from $11.7 million in 2006.