The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over the plight of hundreds of people in western Colombia who have been forced to flee their homes amid an increasingly violent struggle between illegal armed groups over the control of mining and coca farming in the area.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in press release issued yesterday that more than 1,800 people in the Pacific Coast departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Choco and Narino have sought shelter in safer areas over the past two months for fear of being caught up in the violence.
In mid-April, about 200 people left the llano community near the municipality of Buenaventura due to clashes between illegal armed groups, according to local authorities. Violence in Narino, which borders Ecuador, forced more than 400 civilians – including Afro-Colombians and some indigenous people – out of their homes.
The local ombudsman also reported that an unknown number of people had left the Calle Larga and Santa Barbara areas in Narino and were moving towards Buenaventura, some 200 kilometres to the north.
UNHCR staff confirmed the forced displacement when they visited six villages in Valle del Cauca, where Buenaventura is located. They found some houses locked and belongings abandoned. Schooling had been disrupted and farming affected due to the presence of irregular armed groups.
The displacements started in early March when the security situation began deteriorating. Several murders were reported in the Valle de Cauca village of Agua Clara and along the Anchicaya River. More than 800 Afro-Colombians fled their homes along the river and sought refuge in Buenaventura.
UNHCR teams are visiting the affected areas and monitoring the situation to coordinate assistance. The Colombian Government is meanwhile providing assistance and protection to those displaced.