As a result of a decades-long internal armed conflict between the FARC, the ELN and other guerrilla groups, paramilitary groups and the government’s armed forces, over 4.5 million Colombians have been Internally Displaced (IDPs) and many others have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. Other contributing factors to the mass displacement and migration are the illegal production and trafficking of cocaine and other narcotics and its violent repercussions. In addition, Colombia faces frequently occurring natural disasters such as the massive floods of 2010-2011. RET International has been active in Colombia since 2003, providing a multitude of programmes to mitigate the effect of the conflict and natural disasters for vulnerable young people and to ensure the creation of sustainable livelihoods through education, training and psychosocial assistance.
The Crisis Affecting Colombia
Its Impact on Young People
How RET Protects Them
1. The Crisis Affecting Colombia
Despite its economic development, Colombia faces a constant challenge due to its high levels of socioeconomic inequality. The internal armed conflict and the high levels of violence have had a negative impact in the social and economic development of the country. Between 4.7 and 5.7 million people have been internally displaced between 1985 and 2014; it is calculated that half a mil-lion Colombians have requested international protection.
The violence is felt primarily in rural zones due to territory disputes. The inequality in the distribution of lands, the drug trafficking, illegal mining and other illegal markets, along with the weak presence of the State and the limited socio-economic opportunities in rural zones are amongst the principal causes of the conflict in Colombia.
There is, however, hope for the negotiations between the Government of Colombia and the different guerrilla groups to bear fruit. Also, the passing of Law 1448, also known as the Victims’ Law, established a reparations programme and a process for land restitution. New institutions have been created to implement these programs, of which the Victims’ Unit, is a good example. The context, nevertheless, remains fragile.
Colombia possesses a solid legal and institutional frame for emergency preparedness and response. The country has specialized agencies to respond to emergencies caused by the armed conflict and by natural disasters. Nevertheless, the capacity for response can be limited particularly at the local level in some of the more affected regions, which find themselves overwhelmed by emergencies. This is mainly due to gaps in national-local coordination and the weak presence of the State in certain zones.
2. Its Impact on Young People
Young people in Colombia find themselves in a panorama characterized by the taking of territories by emerging armed actors, the constant pressure to engage in acts of delinquency, to enter gangs, to participate in illegal trafficking, or otherwise to be victims of extortion.
Another important risk faced by this population are natural disasters, which affects their permanence in the educational system, the continuity of their life projects and their opportunities to develop themselves.
The internal armed conflict in Colombia has generated the largest exodus in the region and constitutes one of the most relevant reasons for the large quantity of refugees that can be encountered in the neighbouring countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and on through Costa Rica and Central America.
The main danger for young people is the vulnerability of their fundamental rights: to life, education and dignifying work.
When preparation for and access to employment are diminished, the possibilities to generate income and safeguard ones own life seem to be under control of the armed groups and drug traffickers. The gangs who use young people for their criminal activities have also multiplied.
3. How RET Protects Them
Faced with this situation, RET has focused on supporting a process of institutional strengthening, specifically in the education sector, with the intension of cooperating in the development of capacities that allow the Government of Colombia to guarantee access to education and protection of young people.
This is done through multiple strategies such as the creation of educational networks, the development of protective environments, training teachers in human rights themes, recovery and reconstruction of educational facilities after floods, contingency plans for schools affected by emergencies, training the staff of the Ministry of Education at the departmental and district levels, on various themes such as education in emergencies, anti-personal mine risk education and more.
Through this process the capacities of the youth, their families and the public institutions are strengthened. In this perspective, RET’s approach in Colombia is truly holistic in design and implementation.