The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that over 1,800 civilians have fled their homes in a series of recent mass displacements in western Colombia.
According to a Wednesday UNHCR press release, people in the Pacific Coast departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Choco and Nariño have had to seek shelter over the past two months to avoid becoming targets of area violence between various illegal armed groups.
The UNHCR expressed concern over the mass displacements, and announced that they have sent teams to the areas to monitor the situations and to provide assistance to the displaced populations.
The displacements, which began in early March, have occurred as criminal violence has increased between illegal armed groups in the area in a struggle for control of mining and coca farming territory, forcing area residents to leave their homes.
In accordance with the UNHCR statement, the majority of the displaced counted in this number are from the Valle del Cauca department, where in mid-March 800 people were displaced to the municipality of Buenaventura, and in mid-April, around 200 people left the Llano community, near the same municipality, due to these clashes.
The UNHCR also reported that in Nariño, a total of more than 400 civilians, including Afro-Colombians and indigenous community members, have been forced from their homes. There are also reports from the local ombudsman’s office that an unspecified number have fled the Calle Larga and Santa Barbara areas in the same department .
The three most recent mass displacements in Colombia have occurred in communities both in the Nariño department, as well as in Cordoba and northern Antioquia, incidents in which violence displaced a total of approximately 48 families.
Meanwhile, 47 people from 13 families were displaced by neo-paramilitary group “Aguilas Negras” in Puerto Libertador, Cordoba department, and in Caceres, northern Antioquia, 20 families were displaced after the murder of four indigenous community members in two separate incidents involving the two criminal gangs.
According to a March report by NGO Indepaz, neo-paramilitary and criminal gangs currently exert a presence in 1/3 of the country.