Saturday, March 06, 2010

Indigenous Peoples: Colombia - "To go is to take one step closer towards death"

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - From the mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the Amazonian jungle, Colombia is home to 90 different indigenous groups, one of the wealthiest ethnic diversity anywhere in the world. But many of these groups are very vulnerable to the country's ongoing armed conflict and resulting forced displacement. As a result, up to a third of them are at risk of disappearing or of extinction, according to Colombia's Constitutional Court.

Three million people at least are internally displaced in Colombia, the second largest such crisis in the world. Forced displacement is always hard, for the individuals who have to flee, their families and the country as a whole. In the case of indigenous people, whose cultural, economic and social systems are entirely based on their relationship to the land, forced displacement is an unmitigated tragedy. It shatters traditional systems, leading to the loss of social structure, language, culture and identity. Ultimately, it can result in the extinction of an entire group.

"To lose our land is to lose our self," one Siona indigenous man said when he was forced to flee his home last month. "To go is to take one step closer towards death".

For UNHCR, this is a tragedy that affects not just Colombia but humanity as a whole: every ethnic group that dies out is a loss that will never be replaced. To avoid this, indigenous communities are one of the highest priorities of UNHCR work all over Colombia, with a strong focus on prevention of displacement and enabling communities to remain on their lands.

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