Radio campaign informs displaced Colombians of their rights
BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb 28 (UNHCR) - In the corner of a rickety shack, built of corrugated iron and pieces of wood, an old battery-operated radio plays the wailing notes of vallenato music. A cracked mirror, a wobbly table and a makeshift bed where the whole family - father, mother and three children - huddle to sleep at night, are the only pieces of furniture.
Nestor Aguirre (name changed) and his family arrived in this dreary slum ten months ago, escaping threats from armed groups in his native Bucaramanga. "I worked as a street vendor. One day an armed group came to my house and accused me of being an informer. They told me I had one hour to leave the city. They said I was lucky not to be shot on the spot, and so I was," he remembers. He gathered his wife, his children and a few belongings and bought a one-way ticket to Bogotaotá.
The music from the radio suddenly stops, and a woman's voice is heard on the air: "We didn't know where to go. We arrived here carrying sacks with the few clothes we could get hold of. There was no one to inform us where to go or what to do. That night we slept on the floor. We didn't even have blankets." The broken voice belongs to an internally displaced woman. The situation she describes is sadly familiar to Nestor and to hundreds of thousands of other victims of forced displacement in Colombia.
The woman's words are followed by a professional presenter's voice explaining that internally displaced people (IDPs) have the right to receive emergency assistance. Practical advice on how to obtain it is given, as well as the addresses, opening hours and telephone numbers of the relevant offices. The broadcast is part of an innovative UNHCR programme that uses radio to inform displaced persons how to go about getting help.
The campaign uses the network of stations belonging to Caracol Radio, Colombia's largest broadcaster and UNHCR's partner in the project. Stations in cities like Bogotaotá, Soacha, Barranquilla, Barrancabermeja, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Medellín and Pasto, that normally play popular music programmes and soap operas, are now also broadcasting messages to tell IDPs about their entitlements under Colombian law, as well as practical information about how and where to register and receive assistance in these cities.
Every day in Colombia, hundreds of frightened, tired and disoriented people like Nestor arrive in the cities, fleeing threats and violence in the countryside. It is estimated that 40 percent of the 1.5 million registered IDPs in Colombia live in 10 cities. Most of them cannot or will not return to their homes in the countryside.
Unfortunately, many of the IDPs who escape to the cities do not find the protection they so desperately seek. They are sometimes subjected to intimidation and physical attacks by the same irregular armed groups that are fighting in the countryside and which are also present in some of the poor and marginal city neighbourhoods where IDPs end up. Extortion, sexual violence and forced recruitment of young people are common. In some areas, armed groups have imposed curfews and banned behaviour they disapprove of, such as long hair for men, short dresses for women, and body piercing for everyone.
"We are concerned that, as a result of the situation in some urban areas, IDPs are becoming displaced for a second and even a third time. It is very important that we continue to work with the authorities to ensure that IDPs receive the protection and assistance they deserve, in order to avoid a situation in which they become easy prey for unscrupulous armed groups," explains UNHCR's Representative in Colombia, Roberto Meier.
Using popular radio stations to inform the internally displaced of their rights, and how to make them effective, as well as to provide information on the different health, education and income generation programmes available, is an important step along the road to helping them integrate in the urban areas.
"I hope that with this campaign those people, who unfortunately keep arriving here all the time because of the violence, will get help faster than I did," says Nestor Aguirre with a forlorn smile.
By William Spindler