BOGOTA (AlertNet) – Recent government figures showing a large drop in the number of people displaced by Colombia’s armed conflict last year are “misleading”, the country’s leading rights group has said. Between 140,000 and 150,000 people fled their homes in Colombia over last year, as much as a 56 per cent decrease from 2008, according to the latest government report. But the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a local non-governmental organisation, said the government data was skewed and did not convey the true scale of Colombia’s displacement crisis. “The government issued a partial report on displacement for the first 11 months of last year, which was presented as a final report, and one which won’t be modified,” Jorge Rojas, head of CODHES, told AlertNet. “This is misleading to people and the international community. These figures, as has happened in the past, are subject to an increase. The registration of people displaced last year is still going on.” Colombia has one of the highest internally displaced populations (IDPs) in the world. Millions living in rural and jungle areas have been driven from their homes by an intractable conflict between government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and drug trafficking gangs. POLITICALLY SENSITIVE Putting a figure on the number of IDPs in Colombia is politically sensitive. CODHES believes the government tries to downplay the extent of the problem. CODHES estimates that 4.5 million Colombians have been uprooted since 1985, while the government puts the figure at around 3.2 million people. The discrepancy over the number of IDPs in Colombia stems from varying methods of collecting data used by NGOs and government authorities, and different definitions of what constitutes displacement. The government tends not to recognise the increasing problem of urban displacement and it does not often register as IDPs those people who have been driven from one city to another by violence and drug turf wars, CODHES says. “The government is trying to minimise Colombia’s chronic and prolonged displacement crisis,” said Rojas. “It’s clear that the trend during the last decade, which has seen on average 300,000 people displaced a year, remains and will continue this year.” While regular massive displacement, involving hundreds, and even thousands of civilians deserting entire villages and municipalities at any one time has largely stopped, the exodus of civilians still continues. Last year, CODHES reported 72 separate cases of mass displacement involving 16,000 people, concentrated in Colombia’s southern provinces and along the Pacific Coast. The group has asked Colombia’s human rights ombudsman’s office to launch an enquiry into how government agencies collect data on displacement.
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