Colombia: UN appeals for $14 million for hundreds of thousands displaced by conflict

Colombia: UN appeals for $14 million for hundreds of thousands displaced by conflict

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The United Nations refugee agency today launched a $14-million appeal to aid hundreds of thousands of people this year in Colombia where the more than four decades of fighting between the Government, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries have uprooted some 3 million people, killing over 40,000 people in the last 16 years alone.

“In Colombia, human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings and disappearances, are common. Illegal armed groups recruit children – often forcibly – in many areas of the country,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Director for the Americas Philippe Lavanchy said.

“More than 1 million children do not go to school, while 77 per cent of previously enrolled children are unable to continue their studies, mostly for financial reasons. It is likely that the displaced population will continue to increase in 2007, with indigenous people and Afro-Colombian groups under the biggest threat, he added.

Last year alone, more than 170,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Colombia’s internally displaced people (IDPs) make up about 8 per cent of the country’s total population and represent the largest single group of concern to UNHCR anywhere in the world.

UNHCR is seeking $14,436,364 for its 2007 protection and aid programmes, directly benefiting some 350,000 IDPs and indirectly helping millions more. This is $1.6 million more than last year.

UNHCR’s overall objective in Colombia is to promote a collaborative and comprehensive response to what has been described as one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises, preventing displacement, ensuring protection and humanitarian aid for IDPs and fostering durable solutions, bearing in mind the special needs of specific groups. The way to achieve this is by promoting a more effective response by the state and civil society.

In some parts of Colombia, the armed conflict makes it difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach affected communities. The presence of armed groups has reportedly increased in border areas, while the presence of landmines is another serious constraint.

The agency has repeatedly called international attention to the desperate plight of those caught up in fighting or forced to flee, warning that some indigenous communities, displaced from land to which they are tied by their culture and traditions, are in danger of disappearing altogether.