Colombia: NRC country programmes

News and Press Release
Originally published
The Norwegian Refugee Council has the following goals for its work in Colombia:
  • Strengthen protection measures for internally displaced persons and refugees

  • Promote the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees

  • Improve internally displaced persons' and refugees' living conditions
This is what we are doing:

- Advocate the rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees.

- Support to NGOs working on education, dissemination and training related to Human Rights and IDPs. Capacity building of local NGOs

- Humanitarian assistance to internally displaced in four regions (Urabá, Magdalena Medio, North East and Bogotá), and refugees in the border regions:

  • Food security through establishment of community kitchens and distribution of non-food items

  • Information, counselling and legal assistance on return for IDPs and refugees

  • Shelter (construction and rehabilitation)

  • Income generating activities

  • Education
Recent developments in projects

A common feature of all the Norwegian Refugee Council's projects in Colombia is that it is local organizations that do most of the work. This ensures good local anchoring of the activities.

For a long time now, the Norwegian Refugee Council has been very active in Choco and the Urabá area. Projects here include building homes, schools and shared premises for internally displaced persons and returning refugees. Funds have also been spent on providing free legal aid, partly to support the internally displaced persons' negotiations with the authorities concerning return to their homes and partly to ensure that the displaced persons' land rights are maintained until they are able to return to their homes. Establishment of fishing and farming projects ensure that the target group are able to earn an income. From May 2002, we will be building reception centres, schools and homes for almost 10 000 Afro-Colombians and Indians that have been displaced in the Choco province after the massacre.

In the Catatumbo region, on the border with Venezuela, the Norwegian Refugee Council has initiated distribution of food, construction of schools and communal kitchens to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that arose where more than 7000 Colombian farmers with driven from their land.

On the borders with neighbouring Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, we are collaborating with the UN High Commissioner to assist refugees from Colombia, providing shelter, food and legal assistance and information.

Education is a relatively new project area, and in 2003, the Norwegian Refugee Council will initiate projects to ensure that internally displaced children have access to schooling where their rights and needs are protected.

Recent developments - the conflict and the refugee situation

The collapse of the talks between the guerrilla movements FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberations Army) and the government in 2002 led to an intensification of the conflict. The country has now moved into open warfare and the guerrillas have conducted a series of attacks on infrastructure. FARC has also made the big cities a target of warfare, which is a relatively new phenomenon in Colombia.

The intensification of the conflict has driven thousands of new families from their homes, and the total number of internally displaced has now increased to 2,2 million. The situation is particularly difficult in the departments of Nariño, Norte de Santander, Antioquia and Chocó, but war and human rights violations has led to displacement of a considerable number of civilians also in other parts of the country. The intensification of the war has led to a deterioration of an already complicated security situation that makes the working conditions of humanitarian organisations increasingly difficult.

Since the US Congress' June 2000 decision to give USD 930 million of mostly military support to Colombia, the American help and involvement in the Colombian conflict has increased. In the wake of 11 September, the guerrilla factions and the extreme-right paramilitary groups alike have been categorized as terrorist organizations, further complicating the peace talks and serving to exacerbate the conflict. The number of civilian victims of the war has increased markedly, and ever more people are fleeing from the countryside to towns or over the border to neighbouring countries.


The reason that people have been forced to flee their homes in Colombia is complex and varies from region to region. However, generally speaking, the cause is the extremely unfair division of land and other resources, the lack of democratic channels of influence available to the people, and the state's inadequate presence in certain parts of the country. The enormous resources from the drugs trade have contributed to the escalation of the conflict, which is spreading to ever-larger parts of Colombia. It is typical of the conflict in Colombia that it is the armed parties in the conflict - the army, the extremist right-wing paramilitary groups and the left-oriented guerrilla groups - that are exercising violence against unarmed civilians suspected of supporting the enemy.