In July 2022, Humanity & Inclusion declared the Inzá municipality free of landmines, explosive devices and unexploded ordnance. Over a period of two years, the organization conducted demining operations in eight locations spanning more than three acres in Inzá – land that has now been released back to the region’s 27,000 residents.
"We hope that the land we surveyed will contribute to the construction of a more equal society, to social development and to the development of ecotourism in the region," Arturo Bureo, Humanity & Inclusion's Director of Operations in Colombia, said at a ceremony marking the land’s release back to local communities. "And above all, we hope that the decontamination of Inzá will benefit the indigenous and farming communities that live there."
Igniting economic growth
Located southeast of Bogotá, Inzá boasts archaeological, architectural and natural wealth. But, as in many parts of the country, indigenous and farming communities have long had to contend with the legacy of mines and improvised explosive devices left over from armed conflict.
Among the most notable landmarks is the National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of the suspected presence of explosive devices, it has never been fully explored or reached its potential as a tourism destination. The municipality is also home to the La Casa del Pueblo public library, which has received a national award for Colombian libraries. With landmine contamination abated, these natural and cultural treasures will again be able to contribute to the region’s development and help revive the local economy.
Justiniano Pencué, a farmer from the indigenous community of Nasa, has waited 10 years to plant and cultivate his land safely. During that time, the danger posed by explosive devices on his land prevented him from expanding his coffee farm.
Now, Justiniano can return to his land without fear. He has a nursery of 5,000 coffee plants ready to be sown and harvested in areas that are finally free of mines.
"I am already preparing the land to plant my coffee,” Justiniano (pictured) says. “With these crops, we’ll be able to make a living to feed ourselves."
Restoring safety to neighbors
Diana Milena Pacho, a member of the indigenous community of San José, is a non-technical demining survey assistant at Humanity & Inclusion. For two years, she worked hand in hand with her neighbors, surveying more than 14 areas suspected of explosive device contamination. Through her work, Diana has helped restore confidence to the people of Inzá, who can now safely live, work and play.
“I have been able to pass on what I've learned to my community, explaining to people not to touch explosives and teaching my family how to be careful,” Diana explains. “With the threat of explosive devices gone, we can now walk around without worrying, work in safety and visit the tourist sites without fear.”
In addition to clearance operations, teams organized 45 mine risk education workshops to help residents learn how to spot, avoid and report explosive weapons. Nearly 6,000 families participated in education sessions.
Mine action in Colombia
Dating back to 1990, 12,200 people have been injured or killed by explosive devices in Colombia. Behind only Afghanistan, Colombia has the second highest number of mine victims in the world. Mine clearance and victim assistance are vital in helping communities safely reclaim their land, boost the local economy and rebuild the social fabric.
With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Humanity & Inclusion implements mine clearance actions in the five Colombian departments of Cauca, Meta, Nariño, Antioquia and Caquetá. Across Colombia, Humanity & Inclusion has surveyed more than 222,000 acres to identify areas of possible contamination. As part of its holistic approach to mine action, teams also provide mine risk education to affected communities, offer psychosocial support and rehabilitation care to survivors of these dangerous weapons, and help them find gainful employment.
Inzá is the second municipality in which Humanity & inclusion has completed its humanitarian demining operations, following the release of Puracé to its residents in October 2021.
Colombia is among the signatories of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. While the U.S. has made progress in its anti-personnel landmine policy, it has yet to join the near-universal treaty.
Five years after the end of the Colombian armed conflict, tens of thousands of landmines are still threatening people's lives. More and more women are taking on the task of removing them.
Colombia is one of the countries most contaminated by mines in the world, with 28 out of 32 departments littered with these explosive remnants of war. Over the last 25 years, nearly 12,000 people have been injured or killed by landmines there.
Jennifer Diaz Gonzalez, 25, has been working as a deminer at Humanity & Inclusion since 2017. She is working to clear weapons in the region of Vista Hermosa, Meta, the department where she grew up and still lives with her young daughter.
“The whole region was under control by a guerrilla organization,” Jennifer says.
Her father was murdered by an armed group when she was only 1 year old, and her two older brothers were forcibly recruited to fight as teenagers.
"They have disappeared since then. And there is no hope of seeing them alive again,” she explains.
The path to a safe life
Over the last six months, Jennifer and her team have scanned nearly three acres of land. She knows her job puts her in constant danger and requires her full concentration.
Finding landmines in the heavily wooded areas in Vista Hermosa can be difficult. Once she locates an explosive device, she must carefully uncover it. She then marks the location to make it visible to others. Finally, the explosive device is either defused or detonated.
"Most of the mines we find are self-made explosive devices,” she says.
Jennifer knows that demining is the key to a safe life in Vista Hermosa. Only after Humanity & Inclusion’s specialists declare a region safe, can farmers tend the fields or children play and walk safely in their community. Jennifer takes pride in what she does.
"The local people have great respect for our work,” Jennifer explains. “We will make sure that the mines disappear so that farmers can grow coffee and keep livestock without danger. That is something very beautiful.”
In Vista Hermosa, Humanity & inclusion has been running a humanitarian civilian demining project since November 2016. This village has the highest number of landmine victims in Colombia. Lockdown periods, imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, had forced Humanity & Inclusion to put demining operations on pause. Activities have since resumed and, in 2021, teams have cleared more than 30 acres of land and destroyed more than 30 explosive artifacts, most of them improvised explosive devices.
Colombia’s first mine-free municipality
On October 20, Humanity & Inclusion returned the Puracé municipality to its residents, free from landmine contamination. It was the first municipality in which Humanity & Inclusion has completed humanitarian demining operations. With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Humanity & Inclusion is working to clear 10 other municipalities in Colombia.
“We celebrate that communities feel safer today,” says Nicola Momentè, Regional Director for Latin America at Humanity & Inclusion. “Thanks to demining activities, lives have been saved and communities have recovered their rights. From now on, they can use their land, thanks to the hard work that was developed over the last three years between the communities, our local partner and Humanity & Inclusion.”
Mine action in Puracé included the implementation of inclusive socio-economic projects. Since the end of 2020, Humanity & Inclusion has provided start-up capital to 14 businesses started by people with disabilities—including a restaurant, coffee production and cattle breeding operation.
Humanity & Inclusion also supported an eco-touristic project in the municipality by helping with a market analysis. Puracé is located near Coconuco Natural Park, a mountainous area suitable for hiking and birdwatching. The community of Puracé leads an ancestral and cultural eco-touristic project, which they hope to develop now that hiking in the mountains is safe again.
Finally, Humanity & Inclusion conducted mine-risk education to hundreds of people who call Puracé home. The organization and its local partners held sessions on how to spot, avoid and report explosive weapons and shared safety measures likes always walking on the marked path in a dangerous zone.
More than 80 million people in the world are living forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the latest data from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That number has doubled over the last decade, skyrocketing in the last few years.
Violent conflicts, human rights violations, weather-related disasters and food insecurity are among key factors forcing people to flee their homes.
Among the 80 million people currently displaced, 45.7 million are displaced inside their home country. Humanitarian law differentiates between these individuals, who are referred to as internally displaced people, and refugees, who flee their home and cross a border to seek refuge in another country.
More than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries:
- Syria: 6.6 million
- Venezuela: 3.7 million
- Afghanistan: 2.7 million
- South Sudan: 2.3 million
- Myanmar: 1 million
More and more people are displaced for years. For example, the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya was established in 1992 and has grown akin to a small city. With more an 180,000 people living there, it is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The camp is home to refugees from Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Humanity & Inclusion works alongside people living in the camp and nearby host communities to provide physical rehabilitation services and assistive devices such as wheelchairs and crutches, and improve the living conditions of for refugees, in particular those with disabilities, by ensuring equal access to services, raising awareness of discrimination and building the capacity of staff working with refugees to assess needs.
Displacement of people with disabilities
Approximately 15% of the 80 million people displaced worldwide are living with a disability. Globally, an estimated 12 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution.
Forced displacement disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are often at higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, and face barriers to basic services, education and employment.
Having left behind their homes and belongings, many displaced people—including those with disabilities—depend on humanitarian organizations like Humanity & Inclusion to access health care, food, water, shelter and other necessities.
Header image: A man carries his daughter, who is wearing leg braces, through a refugee settlement in Lebanon. They are Syrian refugees. Copyright: Kate Holt/HI, 2021
Inline image: An occupational therapist helps a boy with prosthetic legs use a walker during a rehabilitation session at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Copyright: Patrick Meinhardt/HI, 2019
Humanity & Inclusion landmine clearance continues in Colombia despite the Covid-19 crisis and an upsurge in violence.
In the first half of 2020, mines killed or maimed 181 people in 14 departments of Colombia, according to figures from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In Colombia, the second most heavily mined country in the world after Afghanistan, Humanity & Inclusion has led mine clearance operations since 2017. Teams focus their work on three departments plagued heavily by internal violence: Cauca, Meta and Caquetá.
Thanks to the generous support of the United States of America via the U.S. Department of State’s office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, the Swiss Embassy in Colombia - Swiss Development Cooperation, and donations from thousands of individual donors, Humanity & Inclusion’s Colombian team takes a holistic approach to mine action.
Teams teach civilians to understand the risks posed by mines and what to do if they come across these deadly devices. Explosive ordnance technicians clear mines. And specialists assist victims of explosive devices to regain their strength and independence with physical therapy, psychological support, and access to inclusive employment.
Adapting to new challenges
Humanity & Inclusion continues its efforts despite growing internal violence and population displacement, the emergence of new illegal armed groups who plant explosive devices to protect coca crops and deter rivals, and the Covid-19 crisis.
Despite this complex situation, Humanity & Inclusion continues to adapt its work to ensure safety of staff and civilians. The organization developed a safety plan to continue working while implementing personal precautionary measures against the Covid-19 pandemic and trained more than 100 staff members and volunteers as "community focal points" to raise the mine risk awareness of fellow villagers.
Releasing safe land
Humanity & Inclusion released more than 15 acres of cleared land to allow farming in hazardous mined areas, enhancing the safety of more than 30,000 people.
In the town of Inzá in the Cauca department, teams implemented surveyed villagers on the whereabouts of local mines in order to identify mined and unmined areas. Humanity & Inclusion also worked to ensure that locals understood the risks of mines, and released another four acres of land.
Supporting government officials
In November 2020, Colombia’s deadline to meet its commitment under the Ottawa Convention to clear areas of the country contaminated by explosive devices was extended to 2025. Humanity & Inclusion has provided the Colombian government with technical support to revise and update national standards, including the development and revision of the 2020-2025 demining plan.
In 2021, Humanity & Inclusion expects to completely clear the municipalities of Cajibio and Puracé in Cauca of mines and to release more safe land in Vistahermosa in Meta, Inzá, Páez and Santander de Quilichao. The organization also hopes to expand its footprint soon, working in close coordination with the Colombian mine action authority which coordinates clearance across the country.
Providing victim assistance
Humanity & Inclusion continues to assist mine victims with disabilities and their caregivers, providing physical rehabilitation sessions, psychosocial care, legal assistance and employment support to find gainful jobs in inclusive work environments.
Mines terrorize civilians worldwide
In 2019, more than 5,500 people – 80% of them civilians – were killed or injured by anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war worldwide. Of the civilian victims, 43% were children.
Image: A woman wearing protective gear kneels on the ground as she works to clear mines in Colombia in 2017. Copyright: J.M. Vargas/HI
Ravaged by 50 years of armed conflict, Colombia is the world’s second-most densely mined country, just behind Afghanistan. Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate land in 31 of Colombia's 32 regions.
In May 2016, the Colombian government granted Humanity & Inclusion full authorization—one of two organizations with this status—to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions, as part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Since then, Humanity & Inclusion launched a mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá.
Check out these photos of the demining and first aid training exercises in Colombia:
Fleeing economic hardship and political unrest in their home country, 4 million Venezuelan refugees escaped to Colombia. Without jobs, housing, or support systems, the refugees have faced additional challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Humanity & Inclusion is providing support – from financial aid to hygiene kits – to hundreds of Venezuelan refugees living in Colombia, where 1 million people have contracted the virus.
More than 200 Venezuelan refugee families are receiving regular financial assistance from Humanity & Inclusion to pay for housing, food, healthcare and other basic needs. Milagros Chacin was able to use cash provided by Humanity & Inclusion to catch up on rent payments and buy mattresses for her children so they don’t have to sleep on the floor of their makeshift home.
Humanity & Inclusion has also handed out food and hygiene kits containing items like soap and hand sanitizer. To dispel misinformation about the virus, Humanity & Inclusion has conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19. Humanity & Inclusion’s team has also translated 12 videos into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language to share prevention measures, Covid-19 symptoms, and other essential information with some of the most vulnerable people.
In addition to help Venezuelan refugees, Humanity & Inclusion is also helping indigenous people cope with the pandemic. “Many indigenous communities are still in full lockdown, or can no longer work or earn money, so our food distributions are extremely welcome,” said Debir Valdelamar, Deputy Project Officer for Humanity & Inclusion in Colombia.
Humanity & Inclusion continues to provide psychological support and rehabilitation care to mine victims in the regions of Cauca, Meta, Antioquia, Caqueta, and Nariño.
Humanity & Inclusion's response in Colombia since March
- In April 2020, Humanity & Inclusion distributed 80 food kits, one per family, to people living in the regions of Cauca and Nariño, and more than 200 hygiene kits.
- Humanity & Inclusion has trained members of national NGOs to include people with disabilities in their projects.
- Humanity & Inclusion has conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19, and translated 12 informational videos and a prevention guide into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language
- Humanity & Inclusion has provided remote psychological support to more than 150 Venezuelan refugees in the Maicao refugee centre in northern Colombia, and to people arriving in the cities of Bogota, Medellín, and Baranquilla. Humanity & Inclusion psychologists held Whatsapp sessions with those who needed them.
- Humanity & Inclusion has enabled 112 Venezuelan refugee families identified by a "vulnerability" survey to benefit from a small, one-off cash transfer.
- Humanity & Inclusion organized a series of virtual conferences on psychological first aid for caregivers and family members of people with disabilities.
Photo caption: A Venezuelan refugee sits in a wheelchair at a migrant reception center in northern Colombia.
Milagros Chacin and her family are among as many as 4 million refugees who have escaped the economic crisis in Venezuela by fleeing to Colombia. HI has given financial assistance to more than 200 refugee families, including Milagros Chacin’s, to help with basic necessities like buying food and paying rent.
Milagros Chacin left her job as a nurse behind when she, her husband, and their four children fled to Riohacha – a coastal Colombian town about 55 miles from the Venezuelan border – in July 2019.
“I couldn't even manage to feed my children anymore,” she said. "When we arrived in Colombia, we thought everything would be different. We hoped life would be better. We needed money, so we sold our phone, our shoes, even our children's shoes. My husband began scouring the streets for empty bottles to sell for recycling.”
As if uprooting their lives and fleeing to a new country wasn’t difficult enough, challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have made circumstances even harder for refugee families as resources become scarcer.
“People lost their jobs and homes,” Milagros Chacin said. “The humanitarian canteen, where we used to eat, closed. We only eat once a day now. And we've already changed accommodation several times. It pushes you to the edge of despair.”
HI staff met Milagros Chacin in June and provided the family with financial assistance to help cover their basic needs and psychological support to push through such traumatic experiences. The family is living in a makeshift shelter made from plastic sheets.
"We used it to buy food and we paid our landlord the three months’ rent we owed him," Milagros Chacin explained. "I also bought mattresses so my children don't have to sleep on the floor anymore. The phone calls really gave us hope. It's so hard, living like this.”
Despite the hardships they’ve faced, Milagros Chacin and her family are hopeful for their future.
“My dream is to be self-sufficient one day, not dependent on anyone else,” she said. “We want to start our own small business so we can be free again.”
As part of its response to the Covid-19 crisis, Humanity & Inclusion is providing support to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, where one million people have been infected by the virus. The impact of the epidemic has been dramatic.
Covid-19 has struck more than 980,000 people in Colombia. Many older people fear starvation or serious illness in a country where little or no provision is made for social assistance, pensions, and other welfare benefits. In recent months, the lockdown has seriously impacted the four million Venezuelans living in Colombia, who can no longer earn a living from the informal economy. In Colombia, the severe economic crisis caused by the epidemic has increased the precariousness of Venezuelan refugees who have lost their jobs and homes, and are unable to access food, drinking water, electricity, and the like.
The security situation is also extremely tense: “Armed groups have used the lockdown to tighten their grip over certain territories where the authorities have a weak hold," says Debir Valdelamar, Deputy Project Manager for Humanity & Inclusion in Colombia. "They have cast themselves as ‘Covid crisis controllers', sowing terror, asserting their authority, imposing curfews, carrying out attacks against people who meet without authorization, and so on."
Humanity & Inclusion has assisted Venezuelan refugees since April 2019, and adapted its response to the pandemic. With support from ECHO, the organization is currently allocating financial support on a six-month basis to more than 200 Venezuelan refugee families identified as highly vulnerable. Most use the money to pay for rent, food or healthcare.
Humanity & Inclusion has also handed out food and hygiene kits containing soap, hand sanitizer, and other items to help keep the virus at bay. Teams have conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19, which included 12 videos translated into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language, and a prevention guide, to inform the most vulnerable individuals on prevention measures, and Covid symptoms.
“The first lockdown in Colombia was national. Regional authorities now decide on local prevention measures, which vary from one department to another," explains Valdelamar. "Many indigenous communities are still in full lockdown, or can no longer work or earn money, so our food distributions are extremely welcome. In November, we plan to distribute food and hygiene kits to 3,000 families."
Humanity & Inclusion also continues to provide psychological support and rehabilitation care to mine victims in the departments of Cauca, Meta, Antioquia, Caqueta, and Nariño.
Snapshot of Humanity & Inclusion's response in Colombia since March 2020
- In April 2020, Humanity & Inclusion distributed 80 food kits, one per family, to people living in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, and more than 200 hygiene kits.
- Humanity & Inclusion has trained members of national NGOs to include people with disabilities in their projects.
- Teams have conducted awareness sessions on Covid-19, which included 12 videos translated into Venezuelan and Colombian sign language and a prevention guide to inform the most vulnerable on prevention measures, Covid symptoms, and so on. (Ongoing)
- Humanity & Inclusion has also provided remote psychological support to more than 150 Venezuelan refugees in the Maicao refugee center in northern Colombia, and to people arriving in the cities of Bogota, Medellín, and Baranquilla. Humanity & Inclusion psychologists held WhatsApp sessions with those who needed them.
- Lastly, Humanity & Inclusion has also enabled 112 Venezuelan refugee families identified by a "vulnerability" survey to benefit from a small, one-off cash transfer.
- We also organized a series of virtual conferences on psychological first aid for carers and family members of people with disabilities.
Photo caption: Migrant Reception Center, Maicao, northern Colombia.
© Coalición LACRMD
Since 2013, Venezuela has experienced its worst economic, political, and social crisis in 45 years. This has limited access to health care, sanitary facilities and food, and significantly increased humanitarian needs. At least 4.7 million Venezuelans have fled to countries around the world, including 1.8 million to Colombia and 1 million to Peru. Many have also taken refuge in Ecuador and Brazil. Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are providing emergency assistance to the most vulnerable individuals.
Psychological support and rehabilitation
Since April 2019, Humanity & Inclusion has been providing psychological support to nearly 4,000 people in the Maicao transit center in Colombia which is run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the border with Venezuela.
Humanity & Inclusion, in partnership with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and Pastoral Social (Caritas Colombia), provides rehabilitation care for 400 people, including people with disabilities, older people and indigenous groups. In addition, we provide technical support, such as training to local rehabilitation organizations, and help organize social cohesion activities, including sports, for Colombians and Venezuelans in order to promote peaceful understanding between communities.
COVID-19 in Colombia
During the COVID-19 crisis, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams have continued to carry out some activities in the Maicao centre. Our psychologists have organized remote psychological support and rehabilitation sessions via videos and WhatsApp. We've also provided families with information on how to protect themselves from the pandemic.
Essential support in Medellín
Humanity & Inclusion is supporting more than 2,000 Venezuelans in Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia, in conjunction with Medellín city council. Our teams provide them with psychological support by organizing one-to-one and group sessions, and help them complete legal formalities to access basic services such as health care. We also organize sports and cultural activities to strengthen the social cohesion and social and cultural inclusion of Venezuelans in Medellín. Our teams run similar activities in Bogota and Barranquilla on the Atlantic coast.
Training other organizations to ensure inclusion for all
In Colombia, we’re training 30 members from other national organizations to help ensure that they take into account the needs of the most vulnerable individuals when implementing their own projects. In May 2020, following an assessment of the humanitarian aid needs of Venezuelan refugees in Peru, we launched inclusive trainings for organizations located in the country, so they too can ensure their response is inclusive for all.
Humanity & Inclusion works to protect the most vulnerable
As COVID-19 takes aim at our planet's most vulnerable neighbors, we're ensuring that people with disabilities, people with injuries from conflict, children, women, and especially older people have the information--and even the soap--to stay healthy. Learn more about our COVID-19 response.
Since 2013, Venezuela has been facing a severe economic, political, and social crisis. Access to health care, sanitation facilities, and food has decreased significantly, and humanitarian needs are great. At least 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled worldwide, including 2.7 million to Latin American and Caribbean countries. Among them, more than one million people now live in Colombia.
Gregory Le Blanc, Humanity & Inclusion’s director in Colombia, explains the situation facing Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and shares details about our emergency response.
Gregory Le Blanc stands in a field in Colombia wearing an old HI vest (old brand alert!).
"The serious political and economic crisis in Venezuela makes life a little harder every day while more and more people move to neighboring countries. An estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled around the world, including more than 2 million to Colombia. The Colombian authorities are overwhelmed by this influx of people and the needs to assist them. Women, children, older people and people with disabilities are worst affected.
Struggling to access basic services
The fact that some no longer have ID documents or residency permits, and are unaware how to normalize their situation in the country or what their rights are, makes it more difficult for them to access basic services such as healthcare and drinking water. In large cities and at major gathering points near borders, Venezuelans receive healthcare, and the most vulnerable have access to welfare services and the like. It is less easy to access psychological support, but it is just as important.
In fact, people fleeing Venezuela are very vulnerable, socially and emotionally. They have been uprooted and live in precarious conditions, and this has a serious impact on their mental health. They feel frustration, despair, anxiety and may experience depression.
Humanity & Inclusion is there
Humanity & Inclusion provides them with psychological support in Medellin and La Guajira—on the northern border—and is preparing to intervene in Bogota and Barranquilla. HI also provides support to people who need help resolving legal issues (ID documents, formalizing their situation, etc.) in Medellin, in conjunction with the local council, the university, etc., and with HI’s lawyers. Our team of rehabilitation professionals also help train health service providers, in addition to providing care directly and/or through specialized centers. We also provide mobility devices—wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers—to those who need them.
Due to the scale of the needs and the length of the humanitarian crisis, we also plan to strengthen the socio-economic inclusion of Venezuelans in Colombia from 2020, based on our extensive experience in this sector.”