Two recent reports on internal displacement in Colombia have identified regions wracked by criminal disputes as the areas most affected by this phenomenon, suggesting that organized crime, rather than armed conflict, is now the biggest cause of displacement in the country.
In 2013, nearly six out of every ten internally displaced people were from the Pacific region, reported El Tiempo. According to a report published by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), Valle del Cauca — located on the Pacific coast — was the most affected department in 2013, with 32,892 registered cases.
Choco, another department on the Pacific coast, had the highest per capita displacement rate. Other regions with high displacement levels included Antioquia, Nariño and Cauca.
Although the number of people displaced by Colombia’s conflict appears to be on the decline, the country remains one of the world’s displacement hotspots, with more than five-and-a-half million forced to leave their homes since 1985.
Both CODHES and the government agency tasked with supporting victims of Colombia’s armed conflict attribute high levels of displacement in the Pacific region to the use of this area for drug and arms trafficking, along with other criminal activities.
In addition to having the highest number of internally displaced people in 2013, the department of Valle del Cauca was also the country’s most violent as the criminal group the Urabeños fought to wrest control of this area from remnants of the Rastrojos — a once powerful drug trafficking organization that has gone into decline.
Battles for control of the criminal underworld have also led to intra-urban displacement, a phenomenon in which families are forced to relocate within the same urban area. Along with the city of Medellin, where fighting between the Urabeños and the criminal group the Oficina de Envigado forced over 9,000 people to relocate in 2012, the Pacific ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco have been hard hit. Buenaventura is especially vulnerable, with the Urabeños locked in a bitter and protracted battle for control with former Rastrojos allies La Empresa.
The department of Choco is also the site of violent disputes for control of criminal activities, with 2,600 people recently forced to leave their homes as a result of fighting between the guerillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Urabeños.
Shifts in the displacement panorama are not solely a result of fighting among criminal organizations, however — Cauca and Nariño are both strongholds of rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).