Drugs and hunger: What awaits Colombia’s newly displaced families

‘I do not feel safe here. My children are not safe here.’

The New Humanitarian
7 min readJul 25, 2019


A small crowd of children gather in the dusty streets of Soacha Alta, waiting for Fundación Las Pulgas to open. (Lucy Sherriff/TNH)

Last year, 32-year-old Ana Maria* and her four children were forced to flee for their lives after guerrillas entered their village in Tumaco, southwestern Colombia.

“They said they were going to kill us, so I had to take my children and leave. We had to leave immediately; we did not even have time to get our things,” Maria told The New Humanitarian.

Maria’s first thought was to seek refuge in Bogotá. But after finding it too expensive to live in the capital, she and her children ended up in Soacha Alta.

Situated in the barren mountainside above the million-strong city of Soacha, which is on the outskirts of Bogotá, this illegal slum is overrun by criminal gangs hawking drugs to children on street corners.

“I do not feel safe here,” Maria said. “My children are not safe here. I am worried about the micro-traffickers [dealers who sell drugs in small amounts for home consumption] recruiting my children.”

She and her children are part of a new wave of displacement in Colombia, as thousands flee a reconfigured armed conflict that has intensified since the landmark 2016 peace deal that was lauded for bringing an end to Colombia’s 50-year war.

Jozef Merkx, representative in Colombia for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, explained how the power vacuum left in rural areas by the demobilisation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has seen other armed groups battling for a greater share of the lucrative drug and coca-growing trade. They include the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

“We are still seeing a number of people fleeing [rural] areas, due to the violence there, especially in areas such as Chocó, Cauca, and Arauca, where groups are fighting for control,” Merkx said.

Read more → In Colombia’s Tumaco, the war isn’t over, it’s just beginning

Colombia has the largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world — almost 7.7 million people, according to 2018 estimates by UNHCR.



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