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IOM Launches Study of Vulnerable Afro-Colombian Communities

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, February 21, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- IOM and Colombia's Department of the Interior have initiated a project to study eight territories facing poverty and insecurity inhabited by the country's Afro-Colombian communities.

The aim is to analyse their social and economic situation, their cultural characteristics and the economic potential of their land. It is the first time a study of this kind is being made with the active participation of community members.

It is anticipated the study will lead to a detailed analysis of their problems and needs, in order to provide more efficient policy guidance on the public assistance and protection services that should be offered by the Colombian government to this population.

The eight communities selected for this project are located in different regions across the country: Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Cesar, Bolívar, Nariño and Chocó.

These were selected for a number of reasons. Many have been seriously affected by the armed conflict. Some do not have formal title deeds to their land. Afro-Colombian communities have the right to own collectively land inherited from their ancestors. But without formal title deeds, they cannot claim land rights and cannot access grants and credits for rural development projects. The lack of title deeds also leaves them in risk of losing their land to illegal armed groups and drug dealers.

These communities also suffer from a lack of strong social organisations and have few basic services such as healthcare, housing and education.

Together with a Colombian research organisation, Cifras y Conceptos, and with USAID funding, IOM will carry out surveys, hold workshops, create focal groups, and organize visits to the field and community exercises as part of the investigation.

The project was inaugurated on February 17th in the community of San Basilio de Palenque, a little village on the north coast of Colombia, which symbolizes the African dimension of Colombia's cultural heritage.

The village was founded in the sixteenth century by African slaves who fled from their masters and established a free community where African cultural traditions were mixed with Spanish and native ones.

The village has been declared part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and is also known as the first free community of America. But today, San Basilio de Palenque, as well as other ancestral communities, faces poverty and insecurity.

"We hope that with this participatory investigation, the Colombian government can protect and assist Afro-Colombian communities more adequately. We also want these communities to take ownership of this investigation process so that, in future, they can lead this process in neighbouring communities," says IOM Colombia Chief of Mission Marcelo Pisani.