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Humanitarian partners in Colombia respond to a new emergency in Norte de Santander

10 Aug 2020


Humanitarian staff develop a protection needs assessment with internally displaced people at Banco de Arena shelter in the rural area of Cúcuta, Colombia. Credit: OCHA/Javier Carrillo

Humanitarian partners came together in late July to provide assistance to more than 1,000 displaced people in the rural areas of Cúcuta and Tibú in Norte de Santander, a northern Colombian province bordering Venezuela. The activities complemented the assistance provided by local institutions and followed two evaluation missions carried out in areas hosting the newly displaced, including 325 adults Venezuelans and more than 330 children.

As part of the response, the partners delivered more than 1,123 food kits, 1,080 non-food items, 445 water, sanitation and hygiene kits, and 370 biosecurity kits for COVID-19. They also deployed primary health and nutritional brigades and provided emergency education and protection assistance. This joint effort in needs assessment and response involved the participation of more than 15 organizations.*

A preparatory meeting with organizations involved in humanitarian response at Ambato shelter in the rural area of Tibú, Colombia. Credit: OCHA/Javier Carrillo

The mobilization came in response to a serious deterioration of the situation along the Colombian-Venezuelan border, particularly in the area of Cúcuta and Tibú, due to disputes between organized armed groups over control of territory, illicit crops and strategic evacuation routes. Four massacres occurred in the area in the past two months alone, resulting in 24 deaths and generating mass displacements of civilians in communities along the border, both in Venezuela and inside Colombia. 

Humanitarian partners operating in the region quickly offered their support to local authorities to carry out needs and protection assessments and deliver assistance. Response capacities, however, remain limited, particularly in light of the expected prolonged displacement of some of the affected people. The situation in the area remains extremely tense and volatile, preventing a safe return to their homes. Given current dynamics, the situation is expected to remain complex in the coming months. 

Norte de Santander is also currently grappling with an increase in COVID cases, with 3,087 cases reported so far. Health capacities are reaching their limit, with 99 per cent occupancy of intensive care units. At the same time, thousands of Venezuelan migrants continue to gather at the border attempting to return to their home country, while irregular movements along the border are believed to be increasingly exposing them to numerous protections risks due to the activities of organized armed groups.

As Colombia is reeling from an increase in COVID-19 cases and the impact of more than four months of nationwide confinement, organized armed groups have stepped up their actions, aggravating the complex humanitarian situation in the country. So far this year, 25 massacres have been reported, causing the death of 95 people, as well as 53 incidents of mass displacement affecting some 17,000 people. Many more individuals are believed to be displaced, as population movements usually come on the heels of massacres, but information on these takes longer to obtain. Armed groups have also subjected some 53,000 people – 60 per cent of whom live in Norte de Santander – to forced confinement.   

The organizations include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), OCHA, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP), International Organization for Migration (IOM), NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council), JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service), Action Against Hunger, Colombian Red Cross, Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP), RET Americas, Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz en Colombia de la Organización de los Estados Americanos (MAPPOEA), Samaritan’s Purse, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Verification Mission in Colombia (UNVMC).