An estimated 12 percent of Colombia’s population has been displaced as a result of violence perpetrated by guerrilla groups and criminal organizations, making it the country with the second highest number of internally displaced people in the world after Syria.
A new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (pdf) found that of the roughly seven million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Latin America, over six million reside in Colombia. In total, Colombia is home to 15.8 percent of the world’s internally displaced population.
A significant number of people have also been forced to relocate in El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala — between 240,000 and 290,000 in each of these three countries, according to the report. Meanwhile, Honduras had the smallest number of IDPs of the Latin American countries surveyed by the IDMC — 29,400 — significantly lower than its neighbors in the crime-racked Northern Triangle region. Weighted by population, the displacement figures in Mexico and Honduras are much lower than those in Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
The report attributed Colombia’s widespread internal displacement to the country’s ongoing armed conflict involving guerrilla groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). However, criminal organizations operating along the country’s Pacific Coast, which is home to important drug and arms trafficking routes, have also forced people to flee from their homes in recent years. In Mexico and Central America, the report found that most of the displacements were due to drug trafficking related violence and gang activity.
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While the IDMC’s report paints a stark picture of the total number of displaced people in Latin America, these figures likely fall short of the full magnitude of the problem. Internal displacement is typically one of the least visible consequences of violence, and some countries do not keep accurate counts of the number of victims. In Mexico, for example, the government does not have an official figure on the number of people who have fled drug war related violence, but the think tank Parametria estimates that as many as 1.65 million people were forced to leave their homes between 2006 and 2011.
The IDMC was also only able to look at six countries in the region, and noted that the availability of data was a major problem. The report does not include Brazil, for example, where displacement is a largely overlooked issue caused by a variety of factors including gangs, militias, and state security forces.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Displacement
The report also noted that investigators were unable to find accurate 2014 displacement numbers for Honduras, which could explain the country’s surprisingly low number of reported IDPs. Honduras has one of the region’s highest homicide rates, and faces similar issues related to gang violence and drug trafficking as its Northern Triangle neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala, which both had nearly 10 times as many IDPs.
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