Number of displaced along Colombia's Pacific coast tops 1,800

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, April 27 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency is concerned about the growing number of people forcibly displaced from their home areas in western Colombia in recent weeks.

In the past two months, more than 1,800 people in the Pacific Coast departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Choco and Narino have sought shelter in safer areas for fear of being caught in an increasingly violent struggle between illegal armed groups to control mining and coca growing activities.

In mid-April, about 200 people left the llano community near the municipality of Buenaventura due to clashes between illegal armed groups, according to local authorities. Violence in Narino, bordering Ecuador, forced more than 400 civilians – including Afro-Colombians and some indigenous people – out of their homes.

There are also reports from the local ombudsman that an unknown number of people have left the Calle Larga and Santa Barbara areas in Narino and were heading towards Buenaventura, some 200 kilometres to the north.

UNHCR staff confirmed forced displacement after visiting six villages in Valle del Cauca, where Buenaventura is located. They found some houses locked and belongings abandoned. Schools were not working regularly and agricultural activities were affected due to the presence of irregular armed groups.

The displacements started in early March, when the security situation began deteriorating. Several murders were reported in the Valle de Cauca village of Agua Clara and along the Anchicaya River. More than 800 Afro-Colombians fled their homes along the river and sought refuge in Buenaventura.

UNHCR teams are visiting the affected areas and monitoring the situation to coordinate assistance.