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Colombia must do more to help IDPs in capital, says new study

Colombia must do more to help IDPs in capital, says new study

A new study co-published by the UN refugee agency has found that despite skyrocketing numbers of internally displaced persons in Bogota, these people - especially indigenous communities - lack assistance to integrate in the capital.
9 October 2003
High Commisioner António Guterres (centre, blue shirt) visits the Thai government's Tham Hin camp with US Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey.

BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct 9 (UNHCR) - The number of people fleeing violence to the Colombian capital, Bogota, has skyrocketed in recent years, but there is still a lack of assistance to integrate in the city, according to a new study published by the UN refugee agency and a private-enterprise initiative, Bogotá Cómo Vamos.

In particular, the needs of displaced indigenous people have been overlooked, says the publication, which has already yielded action to alleviate their plight.

On Tuesday, UNHCR and Bogotá Cómo Vamos launched "Displaced Population in Bogota: A Responsibility for Everyone", a comprehensive study of the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia's capital. The publication includes contributions from government agencies, non-governmental and IDP organisations that participated in a forum organised last November by the co-publishers.

Bogotá Cómo Vamos gathers together some of the most influential private organisations in Colombia - The Chamber of Commerce of Bogota, El Tiempo newspaper, and the Corona Foundation, a philanthropic trust.

The issue of displacement is gaining importance in Bogota, which is seen as a safe haven for people fleeing fighting between irregular armed groups and the Colombian army in the countryside.

Official figures show that the number of displaced people seeking shelter in the capital has increased by 81 percent in 2001 and 140 percent in 2002. CODHES, the most important NGO working with displacement in Colombia, estimates that 400,000 displaced Colombians have headed for Bogota since 1995. Many of them cannot return to the homes they were forced to flee, but at the same time, face difficulties integrating in the city.

Government studies reproduced in the new publication show that while 75 percent of the displaced people registered by the government receive emergency assistance, only 19 percent receive subsidies for income-generating projects, and no more than 4 percent receive subsidies for housing.

The new study reveals a lack of assistance designed specifically to meet the needs of ethnic minorities in Bogota, particularly indigenous people. As a result of these findings, UNHCR has redoubled its efforts to help strengthen such organisations. This includes providing technical and financial support for a national workshop from October 29-31, when indigenous organisations will discuss with government agencies guidelines for assistance to their communities.

Another conclusion from the study is that displaced Colombians themselves must be included - through their organisations - in the planning of assistance policies and in relief efforts, together with NGOs and civil society. The publication also underlines the need to improve the IDP registration system.