Colombia – The people behind armed conflict Part IIII: Challenges in the life of an IDP

Hello! The crimes discussed in last week’s entry are not exclusive in the war tactics practised by the armed groups, but shows the severity of the conflict and the devastating impact it has on communities around Colombia. For millions, the terrorising methods imposed on them have been so severe that they have been left no other option but to flee their home. However the process of forced displacement rarely leaves the IDPs in a position where life becomes significantly better. Though the move to a different area might eliminate the direct threats of the armed conflict, the complication associated to the displacement generally leads to new challenges that affect every aspect of the IDPs life.


In Colombia, 92% of the forced displacement originates in rural areas with relocation to urban locations. What this means is a profound shift that generates social, economic and cultural problems for individuals and families attempting to adapt to a new life.[50] Many are forced to give up everything they own, but although the material loss is painful, it is the emotional destruction that is the worst for many who become displaced. The uprooting from your social base, origins and known surroundings is difficult to cope with and harder to come to terms with than abandoning personal possessions. Though IDPs might become better off economically after displacement, many felt richer in every other sense in their original community.[51] The impact of experiences related to the displacement affects the IDP abilities to move forward and become self-reliant. The loss that the victims have endured is often demonstrated as depression, sadness, nostalgia, nervous tensions, fear, aggressive behaviour and despair, amongst others. In other words, displacement is the root of many psychological problems that the IDPs struggle with. Social capital and social networks are usually destroyed and impede the construction of a new life and social development. Domestic violence and abuse is frequent within families who cope badly with displacement. Separation is also common and many times a consequence of the shift in economic provider. In a patriarchal society, men do not always respond well when women become the main provider for the family, as it is easier for them to obtain work in urban settings. Instead, the man will leave behind his family to escape the humiliation.[52]

Because of their situation, IDPs are usually forced to take up residence in the marginalised areas of the city. They often have to live in unhealthy environments forced to share living space with too many people. The lack in resources means that they often have to build shacks out of waste materials. IDPs also face eviction by the police, as they often have to build their new home on private or public land.[53]  Employment opportunities are scarce for the IDPs, as they have to compete for jobs with the rest of the unwaged. Moreover, they are disadvantaged in the job hunt because they lack the necessary skills to obtain work in urban areas. Many are forced to take to the streets and beg for food to survive.[54] In fact, it is estimated that six of ten IDPs live in poverty and three out of ten are under the extreme poverty line. Only 8% are secured sufficient food supplies.[55] Education for children also pose a problem for IDPs and only a small percentage receives formal education. IDPs are stigmatised and denied access to school because they do not officially belong to the municipality they live in. The rural areas that receive IDPs usually have overcrowded schools and lack teachers as many have fled themselves.[56]

Especially for the indigenous, displacement has severe consequences. The armed conflict has largely the responsibility for the threat of extinction that face Colombia’s indigenous population. To these communities, forced displacement has devastating results, as the ancestral land is deeply embedded within their culture and vital for their survival. Those who end up in urban areas are severely affected by culture shock and the separation with their land causes them to not be able to proceed with their spiritual rituals and traditional lives. Consequently, many stop speaking their indigenous language and adapt to a more western lifestyle that eradicates their cultural and social identity.[57]

The problems that the IDPs face are critical and unfavourable for the victims, host communities and the state. When new citizens relocate, who are in dire need of help from the government, frictions occur between IDPs and the poor people who are accusing the displaced for monopolising the social benefits. In urban areas, IDPs are often victims of crime or have other disadvantaged people trying to get a hold of the assistance given to them. However, one of the worst effects of displacement is the degradation that many IDPs feel as their independence and self-worth is shattered.[58] The emotional suffering collides with the social and economic challenges and together makes the life as an IDP deeply problematic. Reintegration of the millions of displaced is one of the principal tasks for Colombia, but poses severe difficulties due to the amount of assistance that IDPs need physically, economically and socially to be able to reinstate themselves as real members of society.

Next week is part V of this paper. We move on to patterns of displacement and look at the different types of displacement and what areas are most effected by the armed conflict. 


[50] James M. Shultz, ‘Internal displacement in Colombia’, Disaster Health, 2.1 (2014), (p. 19).

[51] Centro de Memoria Histórica, ¡basta ya! Colombia: Memorias de guerra y dignidad, Imprenta Nacional, Bogotá, 2013, <http://www.centrodememoriahistorica.gov.co/descargas/informes2013/bastaYa/basta-ya-memorias-guerra-dignidad-new-9-agosto.pdf> Downloaded: 9 April 2016.

[52,53] Angela Consuelo Carrillo, ‘Internal Displacement in Colombia: Humanitarian, Economic and Social Consequences in Urban Settings and the Current Challenges’, International Review of the Red Cross, 91.875 (2009), 527-546.

[54] Esperanza Hernandez Delgado, and Turid Laegreid, ‘Creating Peace Amid the Violence, The Church, NGOs and the Displaced’, in Caught Between Borders: Response Strategies of the Internally Displaced, eds. Marc Vincent and Birgitte Refslund Sorensen (London: Pluto Press in association with the Norwegian Refugee Council, 2001), pp. 205-223 (pp. 218-220).

[55] ‘6 de Cada 10 Desplazados Viven en Pobreza’, El Tiempo Online, 16 January 2015. http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/justicia/desplazamiento-en-colombia-encuesta-de-unidad-de-victimas/15104675

[56] Esperanza Hernandez Delgado, ‘Creating Peace Amid the Violence, The Church, NGOs and the Displaced’, in Caught Between Borders: Response Strategies of the Internally Displaced (2001), pp. 219-220.

[57] ABColombia, Caught in the Crossfire – Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples, October 2010, (p. 12).

[58] Angela Consuelo Carrillo, ‘Internal Displacement in Colombia: Humanitarian, Economic and Social Consequences in Urban Settings and the Current Challenges’, International Review of the Red Cross, 91.875 (2009), 527-546.

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