Internal Displacement Decreases Dramatically in Colombia

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The number of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Colombia decreased dramatically in 2015, but territorial disputes in the criminal world may mean the end of forced displacement is not in sight.

During 2015, some 166,000 people were forcibly displaced in Colombia according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates. This is a 33 percent decrease from 2014. According to OCHA, organized crime groups (which the Colombian government calls criminal bands, or BACRIM), unidentified armed groups and groups other than guerrillas were responsible for 53 percent of the victims of forced displacements. Guerrilla groups caused 47 percent of IDPs.

Of the 166,000 people displaced, 13,950 suffered from mass displacement, which is defined as an event affecting more than 50 people or 10 families. According to OCHA, mass displacements remained steady from 2014 to 2015, although the primary actors responsible for displacement shifted, as seen in the chart below. Since the last ceasefire declaration by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), there have been no reported mass displacements related to FARC unilateral actions, the report said.

At the same time, according to OCHA, “social control measures” — extortion, death threats, assassinations, movement restrictions and restrictions on access to basic goods and services — remain on the rise. According to official figures, during 2015 there were 5,304 cases of extortion, 416 more than in 2014.

Insight Crime Analysis

Colombia has previously been identified as home to the world’s second highest number of internally displaced people. Although it is encouraging to see a decrease in forced displacement — largely fueled by a FARC ceasefire — this phenomenon will likely continue in Colombia due to disputes over natural resource extraction, drug routes, and urban territory.

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A recent displacement of 422 people in the Colombian department of Antioquia may be indicative of this type of territorial dispute — according to Verdad Abierta the displacement resulted from a conflict between the National Liberation Army (ELN), the FARC and the Urabeños, regarding control of drug routes and illegal gold mining in the area.

Additionally, urban crime is known to drive displacement, especially in the city of Medellin. As the criminal underworld is shaken by a FARC demobilization, increased turf wars in urban areas could also result in people abandoning their homes and moving elsewhere. And if extortion is indeed on the rise, this could also spur internal displacement within Colombia’s cities. 

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