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Refugee News                       October 1997
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300,000 new refugees in Colombia  More information
In a statement issued on October 1, the human rights organization Amnesty International said that, in the last three years, fighting between different groups in Colombia has forced some 300,000 people to escape from their homes. 

 Amnesty said that these new refugees are not receiving any assistance from the government. They are joining the one million Colombians, one in every 40 inhabitants, who have been displaced since 1985. They are mostly poor farmers. 

During the same period there were more than 30,000 political murders. Those responsible for 'disappearances', murders and mass displacements include left-wing guerrillas, the army, right-wing paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and even some police officers. 

Many of the refugees end up living in the slums of big cities with no hope of finding a job. Local authorities often consider all displaced people as sympathizers with the rebel cause and most refugees are afraid to say where they came from and why, thus not availing themselves of the little help available. 

Amnesty was very critical of President Ernesto Samper whom it accuses of not only neglecting the refugees' needs but also of not doing anything to eradicate the causes of this forced mass displacement of people. Amnesty says that his government has intensified the war against the rebels, allowed the human rights situation to deteriorate and is even using the fact that people have to desert entire villages as a strategic weapon against the rebels. People are having to escape not as an inevitable side-effect of the fighting but as part of a well thought out military plan! Villages suspected of sympathy towards the rebels are bombed by the air force. When the inhabitants are forced to escape, government supporters are moved instead of them. 

The Colombian government said that Amnesty had the wrong information and that the president had appointed a special commission to help refugees. It did not, however, deny the essence of the report. Samper, whose authority is weakened by reports that drug traffickers had financed his 1994 election campaign with $ 6 million, is finding it very difficult to win the war against the rebels who now control large segments of the countryside. The largest guerrilla grouping, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said in September that they have no plans to talk with the government. 

 The violence has escalated during the last few months. Mauricio García, Jesuit Refugee Service (J.R.S.) coordinator for Colombia, wrote recently that the local and regional elections, hat are planned for the end of October, have brought about an intensification of the struggle. In some areas, the rebels have threatened, kidnapped and even killed prospective candidates. In other areas the elections were canceled. In villages controlled by right-wing paramilitary groups no candidates could register without their support. 

 The worse effect of this resurgence of fighting is the increase in the number of displaced people. During the first six months of the year, there were 50,000 newly displaced people. In a study conducted by García, 53% of internal refugees were found to be women and 55% were younger than 18 years of age. 

One million people internally displaced 

Amnesty International On-line

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Refugee News:  More on Colombia