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Mass displacements in Colombia: What is behind this humanitarian crisis?

The forced departure of the inhabitants of Banco de Arena in Colombia occurred after the murder of social leader Eliécer Sánchez
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A new massive displacement occurred in several rural communities near the city of Cúcuta, Colombia, in the department of Norte de Santander, where most of its inhabitants fled in a «stampede».

The areas were left as «ghost towns», according to the media, after the inhabitants received death threats from illegal armed groups, who on Wednesday afternoon gave them 20 minutes to leave their homes and businesses. according to a report by Nathali Gómez for RT.

Banco de Arena is a village less than an hour from the capital of the department of Norte de Santander, made up of several small settlements (Villages). Some 240 people have escaped from there due to the exponential increase in violence resulting from the confrontations between narco-criminal groups and guerrillas for territorial and economic control of the area.

Faced with this situation, which has generated a humanitarian crisis, the regional authorities set up a ‘shelter area’ in a sports field to provide the residents with «conditions of health, safety and dignity», reported the mayor of Cúcuta, Jairo Yáñez, through his Twitter account. However, the Secretary for Post-Conflict and Culture of Peace, Elisa Montoya, affirmed that people told her that they preferred to stay with relatives.

What happened in Colombia?

The villages of Pacolandia, La Punta, La Arenosita and El 25, near Banco de Arena, «seem like ‘ghost towns», according to a chronicle in La Opinion. In that area there is a long-standing confrontation between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGN), an organized crime group.

The families fled «in a stampede» and left their homes and businesses to «safeguard their lives» reported the local newspaper. They were temporarily housed in the Banco de Arena’s school and in the homes of nearby people.

It all started when unknown armed men and women dressed in uniforms similar to those used by the Police, ordered them, last Wednesday afternoon, to leave their homes in 20 minutes under threat of death.

Groups such as Los Rastrojos and dissidents from the extinct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) also operate in this district.

The reactions

The Cúcuta Mayor’s Office reported that it is carrying out a contingency plan in the area together with the Commission for Verification and Humanitarian Evacuation Mission, coordinated by the Post-conflict and Culture of Peace Secretariat and the Ombudsman’s Office.

For his part, the Ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, asked the regional and local authorities «to establish measures of protection for the community». The inhabitants have stated in the media that illegal armed forces operate in a public manner and that the State security agents do not act to prevent it.

The Attorney General’s Office also expressed concern about the displacement and reported that the head of this institution, Margarita Cabello, asked regional officials for «immediate accompaniment to guarantee their rights».

Prior double murder

This forced departure of the inhabitants of Banco de Arena occurs less than a week after Eliécer Sánchez Cáceres, vice president of the Community Board of Action of La Punta, was shot to death along with Hernando Sogamoso, who was accompanying him, and another person.

The Institute for Development and Peace Studies qualifies this event as a massacre, which is why the total number of this type of crime in Colombia has risen to 68, so far this year.

Sánchez and Sogamoso were killed when they were going to a meeting, reports La Opinion. According to the police version, they were going to a meeting with members of the ELN, however, the inhabitants deny that information and affirm that the victims would meet with an international organization that is developing a plan to prevent the recruitment of minors in conflict zones.

«That thing that the authorities say, that we meet with armed actors, is to stigmatize us and put a tombstone around our necks, because we have made it clear, both to the illegals and to the Police and the Army, that we are not with any of the them», said ‘someone’ to the reporters. The person preferred not to identify himself for fear of reprisals from the armed actors in the area.

According to testimonies, other people who would have also participated in the meeting heard the shots and ran back to their homes.

A long history of violence in Colombia

The inhabitants have stated that they «feel kidnapped» in their community where there is a «curfew» imposed by the armed groups, who do not allow them to leave their homes after 6:00 in the afternoon. This ‘state of siege’ has been in place for a couple of decades.

In the first six months of this year, according to records collected by La Opinion, there were 17 homicides and only between July and August 15 people were murdered. Of the total of this number, three people were social leaders.

In 2020, the Ombudsman’s Office had already issued an Early Warning 035-2020, where it warned about the action of illegal armed groups in the metropolitan area of Cúcuta and in Banco de Arena.

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