Thousands of people in an area of northwestern Colombia that was the site of a church massacre two years ago are living in fear and are at risk of displacement because of the growing number of irregular armed groups in the region, the United Nations refugee agency reported today in its latest update on the situation.
As part of its ongoing monitoring of the increasing insecurity, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mission this week visited the Bojayá region, where 119 people taking refuge in a church in the town of Bellavista were killed by explosives in 2002, and reported that residents remain fearful of potential clashes between the groups.
Some 7,000 people live in the municipality, in Chocó province, about 5,000 of whom are at direct risk of displacement. The area has already seen significant flight this year, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva. Some 1,200 indigenous Embera fled their homes in March, but later returned over the summer. Another 1,000 Afro-Colombians fled in May.
In response to the deteriorating situation, UNHCR is contributing to the building of community centres that can be used as emergency shelters.
Meanwhile in south Chocó, the situation seems to be stabilizing in the Middle San Juan area, where clashes late last month between armed groups in the community of Bebedó left at least 12 dead, including four civilians, according to the agency. Some 2,000 people who were at risk of displacement have remained in their communities and the Colombian army has now returned to the area.