As the number of people driven from their homes to escape violence across Colombia topped three million in 2009, the United Nations refugee agency said today that more and more of the forcibly displaced are seeking safety on scraps of land that no one else wants.
A stretch of beach on the outskirts of Cartagena is one such site, where some 118 families have created a settlement accommodating a new family every week, noted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
When these families arrived, the Villa Gloria district on the Caribbean coast had no electricity or other municipal services because city authorities said it was prone to flooding and land ownership was unclear.
The families sheltering on the beach have since organized, with help from UNHCR training on the rights of displaced people, and as a result the local government now provides both water and electricity.
One of the group, Eliecer Baron, told UNHCR that he came to the area after his mother was killed for standing up to irregular armed groups trying to steal her cattle 14 years ago in northern Colombia’s Uraba region.
“At first I moved to a different region, Sucre, where I could continue living my life as a farmer,” said the 53-year-old Mr. Baron, who now rents chairs to tourists on the beach to support his family.
“Yet two years later, the violence reached Sucre too,” he said. “That was when I decided to come to Cartagena.”
Amid rumours that real estate developers want the once undesirable land that Mr. Baron and the other displaced families have made home, he told UNHCR he would not budge. “We were displaced before. Now we’re staying. We have the right to.”
Citing safety as his major reason for sitting tight, Mr. Baron said that a friend had returned home two years ago. “He was killed soon after that.”