Global perspective Human stories

Colombia: UN expands effort to provide identification to internally displaced people

Colombia: UN expands effort to provide identification to internally displaced people

The United Nations refugee agency today expanded its efforts to provide identification documents to internally displaced Colombians.

The agency's ID project, which has already reached 24 of Colombia's 34 departments, has provided more than 52,000 people with documents since 1999, according a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Today, the initiative spread to Colombia's Antioquia department, "one of the departments most severely affected by internal displacement, hosting an estimated 10 per cent of all the displaced people in the country," Kris Janowski told the press in Geneva.

The project, which is being carried out in cooperation with Colombia's National Registrar, involves a mobile documentation unit which visits settlement sites to issue IDs to those who have been forced to flee their homes. "Documentation is particularly crucial for Colombia's internally displaced people," Mr. Janowski explained, pointing out that IDs can help them gain access to benefits such as health care, education and even bank loans.

UNHCR and the documentation teams make a particular effort to reach displaced women, according to the spokesman. An estimated 34 per cent of all displaced families in Colombia are headed by single women. Many do not have their own identity papers, and their original documentation would commonly have been in the name of their male family members.

The agency is also campaigning to provide documentation to former conscripts who lost their record of military service - a requirement to pursue an education or get a job.

Strife in Colombia has uprooted some 190,000 people in the past year alone, according to government figures. Some estimates put the number of people displaced by the 40-year conflict at 2 million. Many thousands more have fled to neighbouring countries or sought asylum in Costa Rica, North America and Europe, UNHCR said.