Colombians face a dangerous increase in violence, displacement and humanitarian needs, as they commemorate Victims’ Day tomorrow.
“The surge in conflict and violence has destroyed the promise of peace for many Colombians. The Government and armed groups must come together and agree to end this nightmare for ordinary Colombians, many of whom have already endured decades of brutal war,” said Francesco Volpi, acting Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Colombia.
Close to eight million people need humanitarian support in Colombia this year, up from over four million in 2017, the year after the peace deal was signed. Some 274,000 people were affected by violence in January and February alone, according to the United Nations.
Many women and children have been forced to flee up to four times because of insecurity, especially in rural areas of the country where the government has little or no presence.
“We recently spoke to a family forced to flee violence this year. They had been uprooted from their homes before the signing of the peace agreement, so this is the second time they are on the run. Ending this cruel cycle of displacement is the best way to commemorate the victims of Colombia’s long conflict,” said Volpi.
Armed groups have established a series of draconian rules and punishments they are imposing on local populations with brutal force, including on those accused of stealing, raping or killing. They also enforce armed curfews and regulate daily activities, such as fishing and the closing times of local businesses.
Civil society organizations have accused these groups of committing offenses including forced recruitment, laying mines, and preventing people from earning a livelihood on their farms. In some areas, children are afraid to return to school, out of fear of armed clashes and mines on the way to class.
A displaced youth leader in the southwest Colombia told NRC; “We are afraid and we are alone. Violence has defeated peace in our community. We need the government’s permanent presence in our communities to feel protected.”