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Colombia: UNHCR concerned about deteriorating situation in north-east

Briefing notes

Colombia: UNHCR concerned about deteriorating situation in north-east

22 September 2006 Also available in:

We are concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Catatumbo region of north-eastern Colombia. Since the start of the year, violence in this sparsely populated forest region has intensified, leading to another wave of forced displacement from one of the areas hardest hit by the Colombian conflict.

In the past few months hundreds of people have fled the area, but exact numbers are hard to pin down because many have not registered with the authorities or UNHCR. The government has sent an extra 27,000 troops to the region and clashes with irregular armed groups are frequent.

The Catatumbo region is located in Norte de Santander department, close to the border with Venezuela. The remote area has seen some of the worst violence and human rights violations in Colombia's long and bitter conflict.

The volatile security situation is made worse by the illegal cultivation of coca, the raw product for cocaine, with some of the irregular armed groups in the area fiercely resisting government attempts to eradicate their plantations.

Since the start of the year, around 2,000 people from Catatumbo have registered with the authorities as forcibly displaced - but this could be only the tip of the iceberg.

Many displaced people hesitate to register. Some of them are traumatised and very scared, and many do not want to talk about what has happened to them. It can also take a very long time to be officially recognised as an internally displaced person, and some people get discouraged. Unfortunately, this means that they miss out on the protection and assistance that registration entitles them to.

Statistics show that with at least 2.5 million internally displaced people, Colombia is now the country with the largest population of concern to UNHCR in the world.