IDP resettlement and Collective Targeting during civil wars: Evidence from Colombia

Abbey Steele

Journal of Peace Research, Volume 55, Issue 6 (2018)


This article explains why and how IDPs become endangered, even in civil wars that are not defined by an ethnic or sectarian cleavage. The author argues that armed groups are likely to target IDPs based on:

  • Where IDPs are from and when they left. Territorial conquest is typically accompanied by displacement, and IDPs are often assumed to have collaborated with the ‘losing’ side. The armed group responsible for the expulsion could target IDPs for strategic purposes (e.g. IDPs have taken refuge in an area the armed group wishes to control) or because of animosity/revenge.
  • Resettlement patterns. Resettling alone is risky, because individuals living in new communities can be ‘discovered’, either based on the timing of their arrival and their region of origin, or based on their appearance or language. These stigmatized households have incentives to cluster together to reduce the risk of violence to their household. While clustering may reduce a particular household’s likelihood of suffering violence, the group is endangered because it is more easily detected. Armed groups can collectively target IDPs who resettle in clusters, either for strategic or retributive reasons.

These displacement circumstances and resettlement patterns endanger civilians by signaling their loyalties, even in the context of non-ethnic civil wars. Exploiting spatial and temporal variation in civilian resettlement and violence in the Colombian civil war, the author demonstrates that the probability of violence increases in municipalities where IDPs seek refuge, and that the probability of violence increases as the ratio of IDPs from the same municipality (an indicator of IDP clustering) increases. The author concludes that collective targeting of IDPs occurs even in civil wars without an ethnic cleavage, following voluntary resettlement patterns.