Colombians displaced by conflict face new threats, UN refugee agency warns

24 August 2004

Officials from the United Nations refugee agency have met Colombian lawmakers to discuss how to improve the human rights situation around the capital, Bogotá, where tens of thousands of people displaced by its civil war are facing renewed threats of violence and even murder.

Irregular armed groups are conducting violent attacks on the swelling numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the suburbs of Bogotá and in the surrounding areas, especially the region known as Altos de Cazuca, Colombian legislators have told officials working for the agency (UNHCR).

Last Thursday UNHCR and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated in public hearings on the situation in Altos de Cazuca organized by the human rights commissions of Colombia's two houses of parliament.

Estimates vary but between 2 and 3.5 million people are thought to be displaced within Colombia, which has endured a decades-long civil war. Many have moved to Bogotá and nearby areas because of their relative safety, but these regions are also extremely deprived and the IDPs find it difficult to integrate.

Official data shows that Altos de Cazuca, which already has one of the highest rates of violent deaths in all of Colombia, is experiencing an increase in the number of murders. The armed groups appear to be able to operate with impunity.

UNHCR's Representative in Colombia, Roberto Meier, said "it would appear that the conflict is following its victims." Calling for improved security for the IDPs, he said it was also important they receive greater access to education and health services so they can better integrate into the local community.


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