Conflict and violence in Colombia, often directed at civilians, continues to force more than 250,000 people every year to abandon their homes and land and seek sanctuary elsewhere, including neighboring countries. Colombia’s forced displacement is the worst humanitarian crisis in the Americas, and second only to Sudan worldwide.
The Government of Colombia, supported by the U.S. Government, the United Nations agencies and international and national humanitarian groups, has so far defined and implemented several laws and policies to address the needs of this vulnerable group. Nevertheless, the combination of the sheer number of those in need, the changing conflict dynamics and the absence of an imminent negotiated solution to the confrontation demand urgent initiatives to alleviate the human suffering of fleeing Colombians.
The Government of the United States, which has invested significant resources to help respond to the emergency and long-term humanitarian needs of Colombia’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees, must build upon this investment and contain the spillover effect into neighboring countries of the Colombian conflict, reducing threats to regional stability.
The undersigned organizations urge the US government to play a greater role and show increased commitment in supporting the Colombian authorities’ response to internal displacement and the countries struggling to help Colombian refugees.
As part of the ongoing dialogue with the Colombian government, the US government should proactively engage its counterpart in prioritizing prevention of displacement, protection during displacement, assistance to and search for dignified and sustainable options for displaced people. The US government should also work in partnership with Colombia’s neighbors to help refugees and host communities alike.
On April 30, a day-long conference was convened by Refugees International and the Washington Office on Latin America which brought together experts and officials from governmental and non-governmental organizations. The objective of the event was to take stock of current policy failures and successes and recalibrate interventions to make them far more effective and long lasting. The group identified the following policy recommendations that the US government should undertake in order to help its Colombian counterpart and host governments in the region to better protect and assist IDPs and refugees.
The undersigned organizations recommend that the US Government (USG) through its’ role of funding and supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (BPRM):
USG Overarching Policy Priorities
- Continue to shift its bilateral cooperation away from the military and security component and focus on humanitarian, social and economic elements.
- Within the economic portion of the US aid package to Colombia, more attention should be paid to prevention activities that go beyond focusing on the Early Warning System. This would include identifying communities at risk of displacement beyond the 5 priority areas selected by USAID in the current Colombia Mission Strategy 2009 – 2013. Also the US government should insist upon the full implementation of the human rights conditions tied to US military assistance to Colombia.
- Engage with and support governments hosting Colombian refugees in their effort to facilitate integration. It should also provide resources to increase humanitarian agencies’ presence in border areas and support expansion of UNHCR activities.
USG Program Priorities for the IDP USAID Office
- Replicate and expand current successful interventions to priority areas not yet reached. The expansion of USAID activities should be carried out in close coordination with the government of Colombia, United Nations agencies and national and international NGOs, church and religious groups and IDP associations.
Colombian Constitutional Court
- USAID should utilize Constitutional Court ruling T-025 and subsequent decrees in developing programming for IDPs. We were pleased to learn that USAID will be supporting the Comision de Seguimiento of ruling T-025.
- Support the Colombian government’s efforts to adopt the necessary mechanisms to fulfill the recommendations by the Constitutional Court on internally displaced women (Order 092), on internally displaced Afro-Colombians and on internally displaced indigenous communities (Orders 005 and 004 respectively). In particular, USAID should support a differentiated strategy for these populations and support the emergency action plans for the 34 indigenous groups in need of urgent attention and 72 Afro-Colombian areas at high risk of displacement.
IDP associations and non-governmental organizations
- Provide technical assistance and resources directly to the leadership of displaced groups and/or to local and international agencies working with them with the objective of strengthening leadership and organizational structures, improving capacity to access existing legal mechanisms to redress rights violations, developing skills in project planning and management, and financial reporting. Groups of displaced women should be prioritized.
- Take bold steps to ensure the protection of IDP leaders and members of IDP organizations in particular Afro-Colombian and Indigenous IDP associations.
- Increase political support for those non-governmental groups, including churches and accompaniment organizations like Peace Brigades International and Fellowship of Reconciliation, which are accompanying returning communities only if carried out voluntarily, in dignity and safety, and are working with groups at risk of displacement. Information provided by these non-governmental groups on the security of displaced persons must be taken into account in U.S. Government policy design and monitoring of the human rights situation.
- Make sure that priorities guiding program implementation of grantees and their contractors match the perceived priority needs of benefiting communities; finally, verify that contactors carry out regular beneficiary-based surveys and evaluations to assess the effectiveness of programs and address allegations of diversion and mismanagement of funds.
- Provide training opportunities for and support to local authorities in those municipalities with high numbers of displaced people. The focus of the training should be on contingency planning and earmarking for emergency responses, and improving the functioning of existing policy making and coordination structures, such as territorial development and IDP committees.
UNHCR and Humanitarian agencies
- Support increased humanitarian presence near indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
- Increase funding for projects assisting the socio-economic reestablishment of displaced households, prioritizing the most vulnerable groups.
- Support the creation of safety networks for particularly vulnerable displaced households such as women-headed households, orphans and the elderly, including sustained psychological services.
USG Program Priorities for Colombian Refugees in Neighboring Countries
- Increase resources for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in order to maintain its support of 25% of UNHCR operations in the region.
- Support a greater presence of international humanitarian actors in border areas and provide resources for basic services and infrastructure expansion which would benefit host communities and refugees alike.
- Support Ecuadorian refugee policy reform, especially the Enhanced Registration Process.
Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) USA
Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
Center for International Policy (CIP)
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)
Church World Service /Immigration and Refugee Program (CWS)
Colombia Human Rights Committee (CHRC)
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) - Observers
Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director, Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF)
Lutheran World Relief (LWR)
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Pax Christi USA, National Catholic Peace Movement
Peace Brigades International (PBI) - Observers
Presbyterian Church, (USA), Washington Office
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
TransAfrica Forum (TAF)
U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries (UCC)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Witness for Peace