Despite years of security gains, Colombia continues to have more than 6 million people who have fled their homes due to violence — the highest rate in the world after Syria — the United Nations reported Thursday.
In its annual survey, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees said that 137,000 Colombians had been internally displaced during 2014 and that the total population of refugees, displaced, asylum seekers and “others of concern” stood at 6.4 million.
That makes Colombia second only to Syria (12 million refugees and displaced) and just ahead of Iraq (4.1 million) and the Democratic Rep. of Congo (4 million).
Colombia’s 50-year civil conflict has created waves of displacement that have accumulated over time, said UNHCR Colombia Representative Martin Gottwald. While the country is currently in peace talks with the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), other actors — including gangs and smaller guerrilla groups — are also driving people from their homes.
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“It’s not just the FARC,” Gottwald said. “Today, about 40 percent of all human rights violations are being caused by new irregular groups.” Many of those new gangs can trace their roots to paramilitary groups that began demobilizing a decade ago.
Even so, the international refugee population in the hemisphere (which excludes those who are internally displaced) decreased 5 percent in 2014 to 769,000. The bulk of the change came after Venezuela reclassified the number of Colombians it reported as living in “refugee-like situations” from 200,000 to 168,500, the U.N. said.
The top recipients of refugees in the hemisphere were the United States (267,200), Venezuela (173,600) and Ecuador (122,200).
Globally, the trend was more worrisome. The report found a “sharp escalation” in those fleeing their homes in 2014 — up 16 percent versus 2013 to 59.5 million people. Compared to a decade ago, displacement was up 59 percent.
“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement, as well as the response required, is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement. “It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace.”
The main driver of the movement has been Syria, which has been caught in a civil war since 2011.
Globally in 2014, an average of 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced every day, the report found. Currently, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.