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Colombia: reports of violence and intimidation against young IDPs

Briefing notes

Colombia: reports of violence and intimidation against young IDPs

17 May 2005

We are very concerned about reports of violence and intimidation against young internally displaced persons in Colombia's cities. Organisations working with displaced persons in Colombia continue to report selective murders, extortion, sexual violence, loan-sharking and forced recruitment into armed groups or prostitution rings. Young displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to these types of violence and abuse.

There are over 1.5 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia, although estimates of the total number range between 2 million and 3.5 million. Up to a million IDPs live in the largest cities, according to government figures. Of them, some 400,000 are teenagers and young people under 29.

In some city areas, armed groups are known to have imposed curfews and banned behaviour they disapprove of such as body piercing and short dresses in women and long hair in men. People who disobey these orders risk violent death. The latest example of this type of violence was the killing by unknown armed men last week (11 May) of at least two boys aged 14 and 16 in Altos de Cazucá, an area in the outskirts of the capital Bogota which is home to more than 20,000 IDPs. After the incident, up to seven other young men were reported missing in the same area. According to local witnesses, the reason for these killings and forced disappearances was disobeying the curfew imposed by an irregular armed group operating in the area.

On 21 April, another 12 youngsters, aged 15 to 22, were found dead, killed by unidentified armed men in the city of Buenaventura. Similar attacks against young IDPs and other young people have been reported in other Colombian cities, including Barranquilla, Barrancabermeja and Bucaramanga.

We have also received information that, in order to exercise social control over some IDPs, members of irregular armed groups are encouraging them to take loans at extortionate daily interest rates. If they fail to repay the loans or the interest, they or their families are subjected to all kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse.

UNHCR has received information that internally displaced young men in the Urabá, Caribbean Coast, Middle Magdalena and other regions have been forcibly recruited by irregular armed groups.

Young IDPs are also exposed to other threats. According to a recent study, only one in eight IDP pupils have returned to school after having been displaced. IDP girls are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy than other teenagers (30 percent of IDP women under 20 have at least one child, compared to 19 percent among non-internally displaced women).

We are concerned that, as a result of the violence and intimidation by irregular armed groups 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 and civil society to ensure that IDPs, particularly young people, receive the protection and assistance they deserve - thus avoiding a situation in which they become easy prey for criminal gangs or irregular armed groups. Policies to guarantee their access to school, prevent their recruitment by these groups and ensure their physical safety are urgently needed.