Colombia - 2020 year-end report - Issues and Challenges


Colombia has been the country most impacted by the outflow of more than 4.5 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela to Latin America and the Caribbean; more than 1.7 million had settled in Colombia by the end of 2020. An estimated 845,000 Colombians (including dual nationals) have returned to Colombia from Venezuela in recent years, which may include those who return on a temporary or pendular basis - but the Government of Colombia does not maintain comprehensive statistics on pendular movements.

Because of the reduced ability to pay for rent and other housing costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in eviction incidents, mostly affecting women, with an estimated one in four households left homeless following eviction. In addition, families facing these concerns did not have access to the minimum conditions required to protect themselves from the spread of the virus. Hence, this situation increased events of discrimination and xenophobia and affected already vulnerable host communities, some of which were displaced and/or residing in areas with limited access to basic services.

In 2020, protection gaps included difficulties in accessing the territory due to border closures; the spontaneous return of Venezuelans in adverse conditions due to the lack of guarantees for the protection of their rights and economic resources or access to health care; and, in some cases, neglect of international protection concerns.

Legislative discussions to create a comprehensive migration policy started in Congress. The bill, which focused on migration without recognizing the mixed character of the current movements, included a chapter on international protection that still requires significant strengthening. The legislative process is expected to finish in mid-2021, after which the law will become the new comprehensive migration policy.

Additionally, important bodies of law related to the impact of the conflict continue to be strengthened. Since 2011, the Victims and Land Restitution Law (known as the “Victims Law” or Law 1448) has been the State's main instrument to fulfil victims' rights to justice, truth, comprehensive reparation and non-repetition of rights violations, with the overall aim of reaching reconciliation and a lasting and sustainable peace. In November 2020, a ten-year extension of the Victims Law was approved by Congress (until 2031).

Challenges in the implementation of Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord persisted. In some departments, armed actors took advantage of COVID-19 containment measures and limited State presence to exercise more control over communities. Protection needs in conflict-affected areas remained pressing. Since the breakdown of the public phase of peace talks between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in January 2019, no subsequent rapprochement has occurred to permit the resumption of negotiations. In 2020, this guerrilla group's base increased and armed activity resurged in regions such as Chocó, Cauca, Norte de Santander, Arauca, Cesar, and Nariño, including clashes with other irregular armed actors and with the Colombian Army. Hence, ELN represented a threat to the civilian population, as its actions implied risks of recruitment, use and utilization of children and adolescents, threats, homicides, extortion, forced displacement, confinement, and restrictions on mobility.

In light of this context, UNHCR’s operation in Colombia had a two-fold approach: to provide protection and promote solutions for all people of concern in a manner that maximizes opportunities for area-based approaches.