An explosion in extortion and death threats in Colombia’s conflict zones has led to a spike in the number of asylum requests to Spain, an NGO said Tuesday.
Since 2016, the number of Colombians seeking refugee status in the country has increased over 1,000%, from 650 in 2016 to over 10,000 attempting to enter so far this year, according to the Spanish Commission for Refugee Help (CEAR).
“This increase has to do with the fake peace, with criminal groups who in specific places are extorting and threatening a lot of people,” CEAR director Paloma Favieres said at a press conference.
“Especially in 2018 and more so in 2019 this reflects something serious that is going on,” said Favieres.
Colombians fleeing to Spain
Source: Spain’s Interior Ministry
Following a historic peace deal between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, dissident guerrillas, paramilitary groups and organized crime organizations have been vying over control over the FARC’s abandoned territory.
The far-right paramilitary groups have been suspected of murdering anyone thought to be a leftist.
Social workers, trade unionists, lawyers, and even judges are requesting asylum in Spain to escape the threats, the CEAR director said.
More than 120 activists were assassinated in Colombia in 2018, and preliminary figures indicate that even more may be killed this year.
But human rights defenders aren’t the only ones trying to flee. Extortion from criminal organizations operating in both rural conflict zones and big cities have also been a driving force.
The number of Colombian refugees applying to Spain has tarnished the historic significance of the peace deal that ended more than half a century of armed conflict between the rebel group and the state.
Many foreign aid organizations have been caught by surprise. “We thought the departure of Colombians would be reduced by the deal,” said Jozef Merkx, a spokesperson for UN refugee agency UNHCR.
President Ivan Duque has been under increasing criticism over his response to the violence. Top UN officials even accused the administration of “inciting violence.”
Despite the growing number of people fleeing Colombia, the chances of them getting admitted as a refugee is unlikely.
According to the Secretary of Migration for Catalonia in the region, only one in four requests were granted in Spain last year, a drop from 34% the previous year.