A collective response: humanitarian refuge houses in north-eastern Antioquia

In the centre of Remedios, a municipality in the north-east of the Antioquia department, we climb onto a chiva, a coloured community bus symbolic of the Colombian countryside and one of the most frequently used means of transport. We are undertaking a journey of several hours along a dirt road with enough stones that if the driver goes too fast it can give you a headache or make you bang your head on the roof. We are travelling with members of the Corporation for Humanitarian Action on Community Life and Peace in North-Eastern Antioquia (Corporación Acción Humanitaria por la Convivencia y la Paz del Nordeste Antioqueño – CAHUCOPANA)[1], who PBI has accompanied since 2013. At the end of July 2018 we accompanied them during the official inauguration of their “humanitarian houses for temporary refuge”, and more specifically the Farm for Humanitarian Learning and Refuge (Granja de Aprendizaje y Refugio Humanitario), located in the village of Camelias II.

NeA_trayecto Remedios a Plaza Nueva_blog

Fortunately, after the long and arduous journey, you quickly forget your aches and tiredness because of the beauty of the green mountains, the red earth and the peace of the natural world, far from the noise of the cities – except for the bars with their high-volume music. At night you become dreamy and philosophical as you gaze at the stars and the magic of the fireflies all around the farm. You can easily begin to feel love for these lands and their warm-hearted people. I have felt a kind of blind love in the mountains of the north-east of Antioquia, because my foreigner’s eye does not so easily perceive the violent social context. That is why it is so important to keep your ears open and pay attention to the small-scale producers who tell you how their lives are controlled by armed groups and the state security forces[2]. Their tales are full of struggle, loss, dispossession, return and the challenge of sticking to non-violence in the midst of such a violent atmosphere.

Doña Fanny García is one of the founders of CAHUCOPANA and was the first president of the organisation. She is now part of the women’s committee in her village. For her, being part of this collective is important and she is proud that it is being strengthened by young people who continue her work defending rural human rights. Doña Fanny tells us in a low voice: “I hope that my commitment to human rights has served as an example to as many people as possible”. She also tells us about the first humanitarian missions they organised in the area (bringing clothes, medicine and food) and the first international support they gained for the area and for CAHUCOPANA, and we notice a sadness in her voice when she talks about the situation in the region now. The population is suffering new episodes of violence and Fanny remembers all that they have already gone through and does not want to live through that ever again.

Fanny García, member and one of the founder of Cahucopana

CAHUCOPANA has been working for human rights for many years. The collective looks for sustainable solutions so communities can stay in their lands even when surrounded by violence, and one such solution is the temporary humanitarian refuge, a collective resource in difficult moments. They have lived through many difficult moments during the Colombian armed conflict, but lately the threats and killings of small-scale producers have been on the increase, leaving confusion in their wake and breeding fear in isolated rural communities. In just five months, six people have been killed by unidentified men.[3] On 14 June, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office issued Early Warning number 052 of 2018 which draws attention to the humanitarian crisis in the region caused by the territorial dispute between armed groups[4]. The exit of the FARC-EP guerrilla who exercised control over the mountains has left a power vacuum which has been rapidly filled by other groups. The region is rich in mineral and natural resources which attract the attention of illegal armed groups, transnational companies, landowners and businessmen[5].

These disputes over the land have brought with them renewed violence, in an area which has historically suffered due to the absence of the State and the strong presence of the guerrilla[6]. Because of the recent changes and the scarce support from the Colombian State, CAHUCOPANA has created alternatives for the protection of small-scale farming communities. One of these alternatives is the refuges, which have yet to be officially recognised by the State.

NeA_taller, yvonne_blog
Workshop about protection and self-protection

There are so far three temporary refuges in the rural area of the municipality of Remedios, where the small-scale producers can go for refuge against imminent danger and advice on human rights, namely the refuge in the village of Lejanías; the house for memory, life and refuge in the town of Carrizal and the refuge in Camelias II.[7] The team from CAHUCOPANA also designed leaflets on the “Humanitarian Houses for Temporary Refuge” to inform the communities about these and the Corporation’s other humanitarian activities. The houses are humanitarian spaces protected under international humanitarian and human rights law. The leaflets inform the reader that “people who seek refuge here will live according to the norms established for communal living in the houses until there are guarantees for them to return home and their risks have been reduced, or until other actions have been defined to respond to their security situation.”

“However, the houses only offer temporary refuge, as they do not have the capacity to house all of the communities who are facing humanitarian crisis”, explains Cristina Lozano from the Corporation. These houses are for individuals and families in critical situations, but if the whole village was affected they would have to go to the nearest town. Displacement is not the preferred solution and that is why the organisation carries out human rights activities so that the communities can stay in their lands. For example, they advise communities on their rights and seek dialogue with the different actors to protect people’s lives. They also report violations and organise verification missions so that the authorities and the international community receive the correct information about what is really happening in the area.

The next stage for CAHUCOPANA is the inauguration of their house of memory in Carrizal which describes the history of the Corporation and its work on historical memory with victims.

Yvonne Furrer


[1] CAHUCOPANA, official website (in Spanish)

[2] Verdad Abierta: Segovia y Remedios, asediados por ‘gaitanistas’ y guerrilla del Eln, 21 June 2018; Prensa Rural:

La guerra nos tiene hostigados, 23 August 2018

[3] Prensa rural: Otro campesino asesinado en el Nordeste Antioqueño, 1 July 2018

[4] Verdad Abierta: Segovia y Remedios, asediados por ‘gaitanistas’ y guerrilla del Eln, 21 June 2018

[5] Prensa Rural: Nordeste Antioqueño: recursos naturales, derechos humanos y resistencia campesina, 27 April 2007

[6] Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris: El fenómeno de la violencia en Segovia, Antioquia: desafíos para la paz, 16 June 2017

[7] Prensa Rural, Casas de refugio humanitario en el nordeste antioqueño, 3 August 2018

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