Buenaventura – Brutal Realities

UNHCR / L . ZANETTI / 2014

UNHCR / L . ZANETTI / 2014

For the first time since the Second World War, the number of forcibly displaced people has exceeded 50 million. Of those an estimated 10.7 million individuals were newly displaced in 2013 alone, 2.5 million of them as refugees and a staggering 8.2 million within the borders of their own country – the highest figure ever recorded by UNHCR.*



While newer humanitarian crises dominate the headlines, many ongoing crises have faded from view. Colombia may be the most striking example as it continues to face a massive internal displacement situation, with 5.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs) registered by July 2014. Spanning more than five decades, the conflict has caused one of the largest displacement situations of our times.

80% of the people displaced in Colombia are women and at least 50% of displaced women have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. It is both a direct cause of displacement and a weapon of war used by armed groups to try and impose control on communities.

Nowhere in the country is the devastation from the ongoing conflict felt as acutely as it is in Buenaventura. In this port city on the Pacific coast, neighbourhoods are controlled by illegal armed groups fighting over territory and drug-smuggling routes. The risk of displacement is a daily threat, and for many it would not be the first time that they have been forced to flee for their lives. There is a pervasive fear of armed violence, child recruitment, sexual violence, disappearance and murder. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as the illegal armed groups use sexual violence to propagate fear and maintain control. However, the deep fear of reprisals has led to systematic under-reporting of such abuses, and the survivors rarely receive the psychosocial treatment they need.

The 2014 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award, Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro (Butterflies With New Wings Building a Future), is a network of women that assists, educates and fights for the rights of women. In the face of violence and intimidation, the members of the network courageously speak out and put their own lives at risk to create a better future for the women of Buenaventura, Colombia.

Released in September 2014 by the Norwegian Refugee Council with support from UNHCR.

Learn more:

Download the report “Buenaventura, Colombia; Brutal Realities”

The report is based on interviews and desk research. It shows that in Colombia, the violence disproportionately impacts women, especially those of afro-Colombian descent and that the tactics of the warring factions systematically use sexual violence as a weapon of conflict.


“We are all victims in a collective sense. What happens to my neighbour happens to me, too, and to my whole community. Armed violence in general and sexual violence did away with traditional family and cultural practices. People no longer sit at the door of their house to talk and share, to play bingo. Nor do they talk with their neighbours for fear of retaliation. Sexual violence decreased my safety and my ability to relate with others. I became silent and distrustful.”

– Testimony from a member of the Buenaventura Community






* Source: UNHCR 2013 Global Trends Report.

1 family torn apart by war is too many

Learn more about our work with refugees at UNHCR.org