A newly released annual report on global internal displacement again highlights how crime and violence contribute to displacement and migration in Latin America, with Colombia ranking as the country with the largest share of the world’s internally displaced.
The 2017 Global Report on Internal Displacement published May 22 by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) found that Colombia now has the highest number of internally displaced citizens due to conflict and violence worldwide.
The estimated 7.2 million internally displaced persons in Colombia represent an internally displaced population that is greater than that of Afghanistan, Nigeria and South Sudan combined.
Colombia has now surpassed Syria as the country with the highest total number of internally displaced persons, the IDMC report says, suggesting that this could be the result of a stabilization of the conflict in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
However, the report emphasizes that its figures are likely overestimates due in large part to the “lack of information available on displacements associated with specific events over time.”
The report states that 171,000 people were newly displaced in Colombia in 2016, mostly as a result of “prolonged conflict and insecurity” made worse by a “lack of state presence.”
Outside of Colombia, more than 260,000 people across Latin America were also displaced in 2016 due to conflict, the report found. In Mexico, 23,000 people were newly displaced, up from 6,000 in 2015. In Guatemala and Honduras, 6,200 and 16,000 people were newly displaced, respectively. Not one new displacement from conflict was reported in Guatemala or Honduras in 2015, suggesting the security situation in those two countries may be worsening.
However, it was El Salvador that saw the most people newly displaced by conflict in the region, with 220,000 citizens internally displaced in 2016, the report states. The Central American country also ranked second in the world in terms of “new displacements relative to population size” in 2016. El Salvador recorded just 500 new displacements in 2015, which the IDMC attributes to a change in methodology. However, the large figure suggests that the armed conflict between the country’s gangs and security forces that intensified in 2016 may have contributed to rising internal displacement.*
The IDMC report estimates that the amount of displacement in the region will continue to increase as “the extent of international attention, resources and political will does not match the current scale of displacement and human suffering.”
InSight Crime Analysis
While obtaining accurate data on the number of people internally displaced due to conflict and violence around the world remains a challenge, the IDMC’s report reinforces the role that criminal violence plays in forcing Latin American citizens to flee their homes.
Colombia’s armed conflict was long a main driver of internal displacement. Now, however, the peace process aimed at ending it may also be contributing to tens of thousands of new internally displaced peoples. Leading up to the Colombian government signing a peace deal with the demobilizing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in November 2016, displacement began to rise as armed groups clashed over control of the FARC’s traditional strongholds.
That being said, Colombia recorded fewer newly displaced people in 2016 than it did in 2015, the report stated. More than 224,000 people were estimated to have been newly displaced in 2015 compared to the 171,000 recorded in 2016 — a decrease of roughly 25 percent. According to the IDMC, this downward trend is a reflection of the advanced legal framework for internally displaced peoples in Colombia. But given the fact that the peace agreement with the FARC will require significant attention and resources, the IDMC warns that it will be important to keep internal displacement at the top of the government’s agenda in the post-conflict era.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Displacement
As in Colombia, organized crime groups are impacting displacement in Central America. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated in their annual “Global Trends” report last year that a mixture of local gangs and transnational drug trafficking groups were driving much of the displacement in the region. (An incident in a neighborhood in Honduras that InSight Crime reported on last year provides one example of how such displacement may occur.) Internal displacement also poses a problem in countries like Mexico, where powerful crime groups are often responsible for creating conditions that can lead citizens to abandon their homes.
While it is probably true that governments could do more to help internally displaced peoples, as the IDMC advocates, states must also address root factors driving the criminality that contributes to so much displacement in Latin America. Additionally, as the IDMC report states, if governments are serious about tackling internal displacement, more accurate and comprehensive data on the problem will be crucial for formulating effective policies to deal with it.
* This section of the article has been corrected to clarify that the increase in the number of internally displaced persons reported by the IDMC is due to a change in methodology.