Thousands of Colombians have been forced to flee their homes because of the presence of armed groups in the Pacific jungle, despite the recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which brought decades of civil war to a halt. Over 3500 people (913 families) have been forced to escape the violence in the first two months of this year, while last year over 11,000 were displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC, signed in November of last year, was an attempt to bring about an end to a 52 year-old war that has cost the lives of over 200,000 people and has displaced 7 million Colombians, making the Colombian population one of the world’s most internally displaced. The Colombian government has also begun formal peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest rebel group. The Red Cross believes that the peace agreement with the FARC is working, citing a decline in violence last year. However, they believe that the government has to do more in order to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the conflict.
The conditions that have forced Colombians to flee their homes, since the signing on the peace deal, have been created by a vacuum left in the territory no longer occupied by the FARC. As part of the peace deal, thousands of FARC rebels are being relocated to demobilisation zones across Colombia where they are in the process of being disarmed. The resulting vacuum has been filled by various armed criminal groups, many of which are involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and illegal mining.
The area where most of the displacement has taken place is resource rich, but also poverty stricken and underdeveloped. The displacement and violence have been particularly damaging for the survival of indigenous people and Afro-Colombian communities. William Spindler, a spokesman for the UNHCR, outlined the situation facing these groups: “Since the signing of the peace agreement, increased violence by new armed groups has resulted in killings, forced recruitment — including of children — gender-based violence and limited access to education, water and sanitation, as well as movement restrictions and forced displacement of the civilian population.”
The UNHCR has urged the Colombian government to provide adequate protection to the civilian population in these effected areas. The UNHCR has also stressed the need to make sure that the eventual return of the displaced people is done in a dignified and safe manner. It is clear that the peace deal with the FARC has not done enough to end ongoing violence in Colombia. Civilians are still feeling the brunt of armed aggression and displacement at the hands of various criminal groups. The peace process will require sustained action from the government and international organisations, like the UN, for many years to come.
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