By Luisa Villegas
Program Director, South America
Human displacement remains a continued challenge around the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Global Trends 2012 report, an estimated 35.8 million people were displaced last year, of whom approximately half—some 17.7 million people—were forced to move within their own countries. For years, Africa and the Middle East have had the largest displaced populations. However, if you distill these numbers by country rather than region—Syria (3 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2.7 million) Sudan (2.2 million) Iraq (2.1 million) and Somalia (up to 1.36 million)—each still trails Colombia (estimates vary from 3.7 – 5.5 million), a country with tremendous growth and strong democratic institutions.
In spite of the challenges, for more than a decade Colombia has made significant strides toward helping displaced persons by enacting legislation that encouraged local governments to assist displaced persons and protect their rights. Today, this effort continues with the so-called Victims Law (“Ley 1448 de Víctimas y Restitución de Tierras”), a historic piece of legislation passed in 2011 to bring an end to the country’s armed conflict and to promote peace and social reconciliation. This law is designed to aid citizens who have suffered displacement, kidnapping, extortion, abuse and loss of a direct family member due to the civil strife during the past 25 years.
Since 2000, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has assisted displaced persons and other vulnerable groups by improving income generation opportunities and providing access to services such as health, education, housing and food security. Building on this experience, PADF has more recently worked to carry out initiatives that support the implementation of the Victims Law, including developing micro-enterprises among displaced persons; aiding Afro-Colombians and Indigenous people; and providing technical, managerial and other assistance to Victims’ Unit field offices and Ministries such as Justice, Labor and Foreign Relations.
In addition, PADF is helping in the prevention of recruitment by gangs of children and youth at risk, which is supporting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s “PIP”—short for Integral Prevention Plan—strategy during 2013 to 2014. This initiative partners with organizations such as PADF to establish multi-service centers in conflictive areas to aid and counsel at-risk youth, much like Boys and Girls Clubs or YMCAs/YWCAs. These centers, operated by local governments and NGOs like PADF, provide safe spaces to engage youth and provide access to computer labs, cafeterias, game rooms, sports facilities, counseling, youth and microenterprise development training. Launched by the Santos Administration recently, this strategy seeks to accelerate the country’s peace process by reintegrating ex-combatants, combating FARC recruitment and gang activities, and ensuring progress regarding the country’s social justice objectives.
By Luisa Villegas