A public hearing was held Monday in Colombia’s Congress to urge the inclusion of conflict victims living abroad in the peace process and fulfillment of their legal rights under the 2011 “Victims Law.”
According to Ana Paola Agudelo, the lawmaker representing Colombians abroad in Congress, “attending the needs of victims of the conflict living abroad has been a problem for Colombia and it should not be like this. They are Colombians, too.”
Among the issues presented at the hearing are the lack of sufficient reparations and the registration of the victims abroad. Of the estimated 500,000 victims living abroad, just 1% – 1,000 – have been attended to by Colombian authorities in the 27 countries where they reside, according to Agudelo.
One of the factors which limits the number of victims willing to be registered abroad is the fear that if they present themselves to Colombian consulates, they could lose the protections provided to them by their countries of residence, according to the website Kien y Ke.
Seeking state support
While recognizing the some of the advances made, Agudelo emphasized that the government efforts and the resources dedicated to the issue have not been sufficient.
“It requires a budget for staff, to train consulates, to make visits abroad and to be with the victims. There has been a good will but it has not been sufficient,” Agudelo said in an interview with Colombia’s Blu Radio.
In her closing statements at the Congressional hearing, Agudelo said that she found it “paradoxical” that the President Santos had sought money for post-conflict Colombia in European countries, yet the funds would not be used for Colombian victims living abroad, according to a Tweet posted on her account.
Paula Gaviria, head of the government agency known as the Victims’ Unit, also expressed her opinion that Colombia could do much more for victims abroad. “We are not very familiar with what has happened to the victims living abroad. We have not listened to their stories,” Gaviria said. The hearing included testimonies from victims abroad via live streams, including Ecuador, Canada, and Sweden.
Peace talks representation
In the most recent victims’ delegation, which arrived in Havana earlier this month, one victim of the conflict living abroad was included to represent the hundreds of thousands who live outside the country. Through her website, Agudelo thanked the United Nations and the National University for agreeing to her request for this representative, adding that she hoped the final victims’ delegation would also include a victim from abroad. The create a just peace, she wrote, it is necessary that victims abroad “play an active and reflexive part in the process; not from exclusion and sectarianism, but rather from the acceptance that all of us can and should participate.”
The UN’s numbers
According to statements made during the hearing by Martin Gottwald of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Colombia (ACNUR), there are currently over 400,000 displaced Colombians seeking refuge abroad. He emphasized that this number was conservative.
At a forum held in Bogota earlier this year, UN researchers revealed that Colombia ranks among the top ten countries for displaced persons. He added that the migrants face discrimination and a lack of guarantees regarding health care, housing, and employment. In December 2013, ACNUR released a report stating that 327,000 Colombians had fled across the border in search of international protection, the largest percentage of which escaped to Ecuador. Out of a total of 54,000 refugees trying to establish a life in Ecuador, 98% are Colombian.
- Víctimas del conflicto en el exterior piden más participación en diálogos de paz (Blu Radio)
- UNHCR ACNUR Colombia – General Context December 2013 (ACNUR)
- Al Menos 400.000 Colombianos Viven Como Refugiados En El Extranjero: ONU (Pulzo)
- Global Overview 2014: People Internally Displaced By Conflict And Violence (IDMC Report)
- Piden que víctimas residentes en el exterior tengan representación en Cuba (Kien y Ke)
- Es un buen paso que una victima el representacion de los Colombianos… (Ana Paola Agudelo)