Last Updated: Friday, 08 December 2017, 11:58 GMT

Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Colombia

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 29 April 2013
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Colombia, 29 April 2013, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Number of IDPs4,900,000 - 5,500,000
Percentage of total population10.3% - 11.6%
Start of displacement situation1960
Peak number of IDPs (year)5,500,000 (2012)
New displacement in 2012230,000 reported
Causes of displacementx International armed conflict
✓ Internal armed conflict
x Deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
x Communal violence
✓ Criminal violence
x Political violence
Human development index91

Internal armed conflict and human rights abuses have caused massive internal displacement in Colombia over the past five decades. Two armed opposition groups, FARC and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional or ELN); armed groups which have emerged since the demobilisation of paramilitary organisations between 2003 and 2006; and the Colombian security forces all continued to cause displacements during 2012.

The launch of a peace process between the government and FARC in October created an invaluable opportunity for peace. Talks have taken place, however, amid ongoing hostilities and both parties have reportedly used violence to consolidate their negotiating positions. Leaders of groups representing IDPs have also emphasised that a peace agreement with FARC would not end displacement, given the number of other armed groups at large in Colombia.

The implementation of the 2011 Victims' Law has had a significant impact on the registration of IDPs and total figures on the government registry. The law allows for possible reparations and restitution, and has created an incentive for people displaced over the years to request inclusion on the registry. As a result, neither the cumulative total nor the figure for new displacements in 2012 were definitive, because registration requests increased significantly and there was a backlog in processing them.

As of the end of the year, there were 4.9 million IDPs on the government registry. The figure is a million higher than in 2011, but includes both new displacements and those that took place in previous years. As it is cumulative, it does not account for the fact that some IDPs may have returned, integrated locally or settled elsewhere in the country. The registry does not include people displaced by post-demobilisation armed groups, which are responsible for a significant proportion of displacements. CODHES, the main civil society organisation monitoring displacement in Colombia, had yet to publish its figures for 2012.

As in previous years, most people were displaced from rural to urban areas. An increase in violence and human rights abuses within urban areas, however, led to a significant rise in intra-urban displacements, with more than 8,800 people reportedly forced to flee, particularly in Buenaventura, Medellín, Soacha and Tumaco. Other small and medium-sized towns have also been affected. The coastal departments of Antioquia, Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Córdoba produced the highest numbers of IDPs in 2012.

Mass displacements were widespread. Causes included the activities of post-demobilisation armed groups, clashes between insurgent and government forces, threats against leaders and whole communities, fighting between armed groups for control of urban areas, pressure on communities to take part in illegal mining, and forced recruitment. UNHCR estimates that at least 9,690 families fled their homes in around 137 mass displacements during 2012, twice as many as in the previous year. As in 2011, post-demobilisation armed groups caused the highest number of mass displacements.

Ethnic minority groups, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian people, continue to make up a significant proportion of IDPs. Their territories are in rural areas where most of the confrontations between armed opposition groups and government forces take place. A disproportionate number of women and people under the age of 25 have also been displaced.

IDPs continue to have only limited access to basic necessities, particularly housing and livelihood opportunities. They also have less access to basic services than the general population. Ninety-four per cent live below the poverty line, and 77 per cent in extreme poverty.

The Victims' Law includes a number of measures covering humanitarian assistance for IDPs and the restitution of land, but implementation has been hampered by a lack of financial resources and delays in the appointment of essential staff such as judges. It was reported that more than 116,000 victims' claims went unprocessed in 2012, effectively excluding the claimants from humanitarian assistance. The land restitution process also faced violent resistance, and more than 700 leaders claiming their land rights received death threats.

After declaring in 2004 that the government's inadequate response to internal displacement was unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court continued its oversight during 2012. In an important ruling in September, it held that the killings of human rights activists and land restitution claimants were to be treated as crimes against humanity.

International humanitarian organisations continued to coordinate their activities through six clusters covering all phases of the displacement cycle.

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