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Thousands displaced in southern Colombia

Briefing notes

Thousands displaced in southern Colombia

22 August 2008 Also available in:

We are becoming increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation along southern Colombia's Pacific coast, where thousands of people have been displaced or caught in fighting.

In the Cauca region, fighting involving two rival guerrilla groups and the national army has forced some 800 people to flee to the small town of Lopez de Micay. Their condition is very precarious. Most are staying in school buildings, where the municipality has been providing one meal a day for the past week. The majority of the displaced belong to indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups; more than half of them are children.

In the neighbouring department of Nariño, further down the Pacific coast, some 1,000 people have fled their homes in the mountainous Andes region around the small town of Policarpa because of fighting between the Colombian army and an irregular armed group.

Many have taken refuge in Policarpa, which has been coping with repeated waves of forced displacement in the past few years. They are staying in the school and with the townspeople. The local and national authorities are providing humanitarian assistance with the help of international organizations.

In addition, an estimated 1,000 people are trapped further north by fighting around the villages of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. There is great concern for their safety and we urge all actors in the conflict to respect the rights of all civilians to freedom of movement and to protection.

The situation in Nariño has been critical for more than two years. A number of interlinked factors often result in forced displacement in this Pacific department, which borders Ecuador to the south. These factors include the presence of irregular armed groups, fighting, landmines, killings and summary executions, as well as the cultivation and trafficking of illicit crops like cocaine.

Earlier this week, the provincial authorities said that more than 100,000 people are registered as displaced in Nariño - more than a quarter of them in the past year alone. This trend is continuing over the entire region. In the past two months, there have been cases of mass displacements in the mountainous Cordillera region, in several municipalities along the coast and in La Victoria on the border with Ecuador. Several communities have suffered months of being cut off, including in the territory of the Awá indigenous people.

We are also concerned about the situation along the rest of the Pacific coast, including the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó. Last year, the government registered more than 70,000 people as displaced in these four departments. Preliminary figures for the past six months of the year show a similar, or worsening, trend.

UNHCR has been present in Colombia for 10 years, supporting national efforts to assist and protect a large population of internally displaced people. We have 12 offices in the country and work in close cooperation with other UNHCR bureaux in neighbouring countries hosting Colombian refugees, including Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama.