More than 1,000 people flee fear of clashes in Colombia's north-west
QUIBDÓ, Colombia, May 20 (UNHCR) - Some 1,100 Colombians have fled their homes along the Buey River in the north-west, citing fears of heightened clashes in the area. UNHCR today joined the authorities on a mission to verify reports of further displacement along the river.
The internally displaced people (IDPs), mostly Afro-Colombians, say they fled because they were afraid of fighting between the Colombian army and various armed groups operating around the Buey River, a tributary of the Atrato River in the north-western Chocó province. Some say they left after they saw a helicopter overhead and were afraid they would be shot at if mistaken for rebels. Others complain of having nothing to eat back home, having run out of supplies due to the unrest.
According to the IDPs, these fears and conditions have provoked the displacement of the entire Afro-Colombian population in seven communities - San José de Buey, La Vuelta, Curuchí, San Antonio de Buey, Aurobuey, Chibugá and Mansa.
The IDPs are now in the provincial capital, Quibdó, where they are receiving emergency assistance from the municipal authorities. The majority are staying with host families while 60 of them are temporarily staying in the premises of the COCOMACIA Afro-Colombian organisation. UNHCR is concerned about the food and health situation due to the sudden large influx into the city.
"Given the urgency of the situation, we are launching an emergency campaign with the Registry Office early next week to provide identity documents to the new IDPs so that they can be entered into the government's IDP registry and receive further assistance," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.
More people are on their way to Quibdó, say the IDPs, noting that en route to the provincial capital, they met other IDPs from the Buey River area who wanted to come but had run out of fuel. UNHCR staff from the Quibdó office joined the authorities on a mission on Friday to verify these reports.
Redmond added that two indigenous communities still remain along the Buey River but may also join the exodus if the insecurity continues.
UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations have repeatedly warned about the deepening crisis in the Chocó province and requested the Colombian authorities and the international community to intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Some 2 million people have been displaced because of armed conflict in Colombia. UNHCR is working with the Colombian government and other UN agencies to protect the right of IDPs and prevent further displacement.