Three million people have been displaced by the violent conflict in Colombia. Yet after 40 years of civil war and with the second highest number of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the world after Sudan, the conflict hardly merits a mention in the international media. Civilians bear the brunt of the violence, caught up in the crossfire between government soldiers, leftist rebels, cocaine smugglers and far-right paramilitary militias. Forced displacement is widely seen as strategy of war in Colombia rather than a by-product of it. Direct confrontation between warring parties is rarely the cause of displacement; assassinations, intimidation and personal threats are the main reasons given by IDPs for fleeing.
The majority of displaced seek safety in the slums around the major towns and cities. “We fled because the paramilitaries came to my door and demanded my son join them. I would not give away my son to the criminals. As revenge they killed my husband, and we decided to flee,” explains 51 year old Noris, one of approximately 30,000 IDPs living on the outskirts of the western jungle town of Quibdo. At the government registration centre for IDPs in the Soacha slum north of Bogota, home to over 200,000 displaced, new arrivals register every day telling the same stories of threats and killings. In Colombian history the period 1948-1958 is known as ‘la violencia’. Every bit as violent as its name suggests, ‘la violencia’ appears in retrospect as little more than the opening act for the horrific abuses by all sides in the ongoing forty year civil war.