Stuck in the middle” – Seeking Durable Solutions in Post-Peace Agreement Colombia

Chloe Sydney

IDMC, March 2019


This study examines the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movements and durable solutions in Colombia. Based on almost 200 interviews with IDPs, refugees and returning refugees, the study examines drivers of displacement and onward movement within and across borders, provides a better understanding of priorities and preconditions for return, and explores obstacles and opportunities for durable solutions. While the sample is not representative, the research offers insights into respondents’ knowledge, experiences, attitudes and aspirations. Key findings include:

  • Research participants were displaced by a wide range of displacement triggers including: armed groups seeking to seize control of their land; armed confrontations between groups; persecution and death threats for attempting to bring crimes to justice, perceived affiliation to armed groups or political parties, or because of their sexual orientation; extortion; and fear of forced recruitment.
  • Despite the peace agreement signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) in 2016, internal displacement continues—around 139,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence were recorded in 2017. Additionally, the crisis in Venezuela has led to the return of between 300,000 and 500,000 Colombian refugees and vulnerable migrants. Many have been unable to go back to their areas of origin because of insecurity, and have returned to a life of internal displacement.
  • More than a third of respondents said they had been displaced more than once. Cross-border movements often take place when IDPs are unable to find safety in Colombia. Around three-quarters of refugees and returning refugees interviewed had been internally displaced before fleeing Colombia.
  • The early stages of displacement are particularly hard and can be marked by hunger and homelessness both in Colombia and abroad. Many IDPs and refugees struggle to access adequate housing, employment and services. Internal displacement to peripheral urban areas may increase people’s exposure to violence, leading to further forced movements.
  • Difficult conditions in displacement motivate some IDPs and refugees to return, but these movements are sometimes premature and often unsustainable. Less than a quarter of returning refugees surveyed were living in their areas of origin, partly because of continued insecurity. Given the challenges faced by returning refugees, nearly a third of those interviewed wish to leave the country again.
  • Colombia has one of the world’s most comprehensive legal frameworks on internal displacement, with sophisticated mechanisms for assistance, compensation and land restitution. However, implementation of legislation is slow and only around 10 percent of victims have so far received compensation.