Historical background and Main Causes of the Phenomenon of Forced Displacement and Internal Migration in Colombia

London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume | Issue | Compilation
Authored by jaime Sandoval , Natalia Catalina Ubajoa Fierro
Classification: NA
Keywords: Historical context, forced displacement, internal migrations, armed conflict.
Language: English

This article aims to analyze the main factors of forced displacement and internal migrations, which coincide not only in the 19th century but mainly in the 20th century with the phenomena of violence in Colombia, many times generated by factors of armed conflict in various stages and areas of the country. He only wants to show, through a brief historical overview, the main events that changed the armed conflict in Colombia and incidentally gave rise to the causes and consequences of the phenomenon of forced displacement and internal migration in the country. By understanding the historical structure of the phenomenon, it is possible to show the difficulties in at least solving its current situation in Colombia, even with the 2016 pacification processes.

The above is developed through a hermeneutical and analytical method. For this purpose, the document was prepared using historical, descriptive, teleological, and reflective instruments.


Historical Background and Main Causes of the Phenomenon of Forced Displacement and Internal Migration in Colombia

Jaime Alberto Sandoval Mesaα  & Natalia Catalina Ubajoa Fierroσ



This article aims to analyse the main factors of forced displacement and internal migrations, which coincide not only in the 19th century but mainly in the 20th century with the phenomena of violence in Colombia, many times generated by factors of armed conflict in various stages and areas of the country. He only wants to show, through a brief historical overview, the main events that changed the armed conflict in Colombia and incidentally gave rise to the causes and consequences of the phenomenon of forced displacement and internal migration in the country. By understanding the historical structure of the phenomenon, it is possible to show the difficulties in at least solving its current situation in Colombia, even with the 2016 pacification processes.

The above is developed through a hermeneutical and analytical method. For this purpose, the document was prepared using historical, descriptive, teleological, and reflective instruments.

Keywords: historical context, forced displacement, internal migrations, armed conflict.


El presente artículo pretende analizar los principales factores del desplazamiento forzado y las migraciones internas, las cuales coinciden no sólo en el siglo XIX sino principalmente en el siglo XX con los fenómenos de violencia en Colombia, muchas veces generadas por los factores de conflicto armado en diversas etapas y zonas del país. El mismo, solamente quiere mostrar, a través de un breve recorrido histórico, los principales eventos que cambiaron el conflicto armado en Colombia y de paso dieron lugar a las causas y consecuencias del fenómeno del desplazamiento forzado y las migraciones internas en el país. Al comprender la estructura histórica del fenómeno se puede evidenciar las dificultadas para al menos dar solución a su situación actual en Colombia, aun con los procesos de pacificación de 2016.

Lo anterior se desarrolla mediante un método hermenéutico, analítico. Para tal efecto, el documento fue elaborado mediante instrumentos de tipo histórico, descriptivo, teleológico y reflexivo.

Palabras clave: contexto histórico, despla- zamiento forzado, migraciones internas, conflicto armado.

Author α: PhD in Law. Master of Criminal Law. Specialist in Public Law. Lawyer University Santo Tomás D.C. Research Professor. Bogotá Colombia. Research Product, New Granada Military University, Faculty of Law. Project. Inv. Der. 3162. Validity 2020-2021.

Author σ: Lawyer, Universidad Santo Tomás Bogotá D.C., Master in National and International Cooperation, Università Cattolica di Milano, Italy. Master in Migration Law, Università degli Studi  di Bergamo, Italy. Research product of the Master in in Migration Law from the University of Bergamo, Italy.


One of the biggest structural problems in Colombia focuses on the process of incessant forced displacement that extended throughout the 20th century and continues today.

This can be explained in the context of the nation's configuration, which was consolidated with the founding of the republic, after independence on August 7, 1819, and its final process is centred on the Constitution of 1832 after the Great Colombia of Bolívar. (1819 - 1830). In this sense, the historical and political development of the nation was characterized by its instability, affected by multiple conflicts and civil wars that only ended after the thousand-day war between 1899 and 1903 (URIBE VARGAS Diego 1985). For many experts, this event is considered as the first antecedent of the migration from the countryside to the city, particularly to the city of Bogotá of peasants from many regions

Between 1910 and 1948, Colombia had a relative peace, however, the problem arose in the countryside during this time, by virtue of the precarious conditions of the peasants, without employment contracts, without education, without a future and in a situation almost medieval, which in many cases forced them to migrate internally to cities, particularly Bogotá and Medellín. In these cases, the problem centred on the role of the lord of the hacienda who exercised control over all social aspects. In addition, one of the factors that allowed the change in the peasant society that was always the protagonist of internal migrations, was constituted by the constitutional reform of 1936 that focused on property and its social function, the right of association, and the education of free basic elementary for citizens (SANDOVAL MESA Jaime Alberto 2018, URIBE VARGAS, Diego 1985). This generated awareness of the peasant, who had to migrate to the cities to find a better future than to be submitted to the landowner.

Another symbol of social struggles and causes of internal displacement occurred in 1928, in an unfortunate event that ended with the violent suppression of a strike at an American company called the United Fruit Company. The result was the use of the armed forces to suppress protests and strikes over working conditions with a balance of around 70 dead workers, called “The Massacre of the Bananeras”. Currently, the internal displacement and violence generated insecurity of citizens and therefore the decision to seek better living conditions. (ITURRALDE Manuel 2010)

For many people, this was the first event that generated the background to the current conflict. It all started due to the poor conditions of the workers in the field. The massacre "of the banana plantations", in 1928, represented a first protest these conditions. (ITURRALDE Manuel 2010) This type of social protest was defended by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who between the 30s and 40s became the political leader of this cause. He represented hope in defence of workers 'conditions and workers' interests in the National Congress; in his party, the Colombian Liberal Party, one of the traditional parties in Colombia and in general, in the country's political scene. (VAZQUEZ C. Alfredo 1986). All this generated a new concept of life, which perhaps the peasant did not know, and this new urban status generated a new social condition of workers from all over the national rural sector. The growth of cities just arises as a factor associated with internal migration. But the promoter of this phenomenon focused on the precariousness of the country's rural areas and to some extent the isolation of many regions with the metropolis.


The preceding precedents caused during the 1940s the origin of the armed conflict in Colombia, since many of the problems of the peasant never had a solution, even more in the face of the events of April 9, 1948, called the Bogotazo, in the which its leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated in the city of Bogotá, who up to that moment defended the rights of the popular class, of the working class and of course of the peasants.

For now, in Colombia in the social order, class differences remained between the upper class, the middle class, the working class and the peasants. But at that time the middle class represented a minimal population, and they aspired to occupy positions in the bureaucracy and participate in politics, while the popular class had nothing, not even constitutional guarantees. This factor associated with excluded social groups begins to represent the origin of the migrant populations that are going to settle in marginal territories of the cities and since then they are going to determine their growth in Colombia and an underdevelopment in crisis. All this is well documented in the 2014 historical report prepared by the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation in Colombia, also known as "Basta Ya". In the same it is stated in relation to the murder of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán "We do not know who killed him", the truth is that this fact generated the first wave of violence in the entire country and of course the second episode of great migrations in Colombia to from 1948 almost until 1962.

This first period was called the first violence in Colombia, it was also called bipartisan violence, between the liberal party and the conservative party (1948 - 1962), precisely because the causes of rural violence were determined by membership in one or the other party. During this period, there were mainly two events: First, the government applied force through the police to stop the violence, and second, in response to this fact, the first movement of peasants who defended themselves against the government's measures appeared. This movement was called “Liberal Guerrilla”, but it was a movement of peasants who, after a peace pact in 1955, laid down their arms and never returned to the armed movements. Of course, these peasants migrated to all urban areas in Colombia, because of all the causes mentioned.

In addition to all this, during this period there was a military dictatorship between 1953 and 1957 that was carried out, through a "coup d'état" by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, against the government in force at the time. This coup represented a reaction for the defence of the peasants and the measures of force against the liberties exercised by the government of that time. For example, the government was responsible for measures that involved the closure of radio stations, people arrested without a warrant, etc. (SANDOVAL MESA Jaime Alberto. 2018). Paramilitary groups also emerged, supported by the police to persecute and in some cases to assassinate peasant leaders. Of course, this fact is associated with a multiplicity of migratory movements in this sense, especially from the countryside to the city.

In general, the dictatorship of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953 - 1957) was accepted at first by all the society and its notable success was the 1955 peace pact. However, in the end it also exercised authoritarian and arbitrary powers. These factors also coincide with movements to urban areas of peasants, not only because of violence in the countryside, as Orlando Fals Borda relates in the text, violence in Colombia, (FALS BORDA Orlando, GUZMAN C. German, UMAÑA Eduardo, 1962) but also because there is a brief period of infrastructure works and the foundation of new companies. That they attract peasant labour to the factories in big cities.

This migration of this time can be considered positive, since many peasants who travelled forgetting their lands and fleeing bipartisan violence, found refuge in the new factories that were just beginning to allow a moment of development in Colombia (FALS BORDA Orlando, GUZMAN C. German, UMAÑA Eduardo, 1962). This example of brief development may have been one of the factors that perhaps stopped migration for the time being, however, the issue has not been regular and therefore this cause persists in the phenomenon of internal displacement. But in turn it allowed in some cases, one of the main solutions that corresponds to the establishment and establishment of the migrant citizen. Unfortunately, the country's industrial development has been awfully slow and precarious, which has not allowed solutions in this regard to be structured.

In 1957, Colombia's traditional political parties (liberals and conservatives) signed a pact in Spain to overthrow the dictator. Indeed, with the support of the military forces, the traditional political parties of Colombia managed to overthrow the dictatorship and determined through the plebiscite the origin of a shared government between the two called the National Front regime. The characteristic of this regime was that each party would govern for 4 years and power would rotate for 4 years to the liberal party and the following 4 years to the conservative party. (VAZQUEZ C. Alfredo 1986). This government developed for 16 years between 1958 and 1974 and coincides with the origin of the current guerrillas as another cause of forced displacement. On this point, the argument of the absence of the state in many regions is sometimes added to this situation, which in addition to being real, still continues as a constant that implies that many of its inhabitants are forced to migrate to the cities, however, the phenomenon of violence is also part of this case, more than anything if its extension in time is taken into account, even to the present day. (GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. 2014).

This fact began during the 1960s and for many constitutes the origin of the current guerrillas, mainly due to the exclusion of other political forces, for example, from the left. In this sense, a group of peasants who distrusted this government (National Front Regime) and who did not break their organization of the previous process of violence, organized into a guerrilla in the countryside and founded the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC). (VAZQUEZ C. Alfredo 1986). This was the origin of the FARC, which is now added as another of the factors of forced displacement in Colombia, given its policies assumed during the decades of its existence (1964-2016), almost all to the detriment of the peasant to whom it is added. another factor of Internal Displacement. (GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. 2014).

Another of the current guerrillas in Colombia is called ELN (National Liberation Army), which was born in 1966 and whose origin was mainly in universities, unions, and social groups. Finally, one of the most relevant subversive groups was The M19, which was born in 1970 as a protest election that, in his opinion, were illegitimate. According to them, the government committed fraud in the 1970 elections to choose the president of the national front against the other candidate, the former dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. (GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. 2014). This was a university and especially urban guerrilla movement. Their actions had some support in society until they had one of their greatest mistakes, such as the taking of the Palace of Justice (November 3, 1985). Where in the crossfire, between official forces and members of the guerrilla, the Magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice were assassinated. After this, society lost credibility in them, and they had no choice but to negotiate the peace that materialized in 1990. (ITURRALDE Manuel 2010), This was a successful process and now  they represent an important sector of the political left in Colombia. For example, the candidate in the elections for President last May won second place and represents the opposition in Colombia. He was a member of this guerrilla. Well, this context of violence has been an engine of displacement due to incessant events such as the massacres, killings of protected persons, damage to protected property, regional insecurity and, above all, threats to the civilian population that results in forced displacement.


In the 80s, drug cartels appear. For example, Pablo Escobar, the Medellín Cartel and the Cali cartel are remembered, mainly. During this time, drug trafficking appeared as an essential element of the conflict. In these cases, another phenomenon is presented, such as the displacement between cities, from one to the other depending on the cartels that generated pressure in society. (GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. 2014)

Without this element, the conflict would have ended much sooner, but its financing capacity fuelled the survival of the armed groups. All of them, both the guerrillas and the cartels themselves and some new actors such as the paramilitary groups, had sufficient income to finance the conflict. Even so, the measures of the state had to face the three main lines of the Conflict. (BENAVIDES Farid Samir and Eduard VINYAMATA I CAMP, 2011) On the one hand, the activities of the guerrilla groups that at this time carried out activities not only of extortion or kidnapping but also of drug trafficking and terrorism, had serious effects on the population, causing forced migration to the cities. Here this effect was due to security reasons.

Secondly, the acts of the drug cartels generated many acts of terrorism in the cities with their internal wars and therefore another phenomenon called migration between cities arose. From one city to another, due to security chaos, an irrepressible phenomenon occurs, especially in Bogotá, which seems to become a refuge from internal displacement.

Finally, self-defence groups right fighting the rebels in parallel and illegal to the State, the scale in their actions in the conflict, with the most serious human rights violations and mass killings, also generated a factor of insecurity and violence in rural areas that also caused the phenomenon of massive forced migration to the cities.

This does not mean that there are no other similar groups now, because there is talk of the emergence of new groups, such as the so-called emerging organized gangs (Aguilas Negras, Urabeños, the Gulf cartel, etc.) that have replaced the presence of the guerrilla in the territories but not in the context of previous armed conflict. In any case, these groups also generate displacement phenomena due to their security actions, control, organized crime derived from drug trafficking, kidnapping, etc. These phenomena can be seen in the northern region of the country in Antioquia, the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific where actions by guerrilla groups and emerging gangs still persist; the areas bordering Venezuela such as La Guajira, the Catatumbo where emerging groups coexist, and the ELN, the Amazon region in departments such as Caquetá and Putumayo mainly, Vichada to a lesser extent, etc. (GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. 2014)

For these reasons, it is based on the existence of the conflict today even with the advent of the 2016 peace process, what happens is that at the moment it can be classified as a low intensity conflict, (JAIMES-AMADO María Cecilia & PRIETO SANJUAN Rafael, 2010) however, this does not mean that acts of violence that generate displacement do not continue to appear, on the contrary, the phenomenon continues in force along with Venezuelan migration that deserves further analysis.


We can identify several periods that originated forced displacement and current internal migration in Colombia, the first of which arises from the effects of the 19th century with the civil war that began in the late and early 20th century called "The Thousand Days War (1899-1903) ”. This first armed confrontation produced the first migration to the cities, especially Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, among others.

The second period of migration occurs after the first bipartisan violence in Colombia between 1948 and 1962. In this scenario, not only did the current armed conflict originate, but the second wave of migration to cities in Colombia throughout the territory was generated. National. This second period produced the formation of marginal areas in the cities, which up to now have no growth control and only some measures of social reintegration and social improvement, however their growth is overwhelmed and sometimes lacking the state presence.

The third period of migration occurs just after the subversive struggle in Colombia between 1964 with the origin of the guerrillas and 1990. In this period the factors are multiple in displacement and forced migration, since many are due to the causes of the conflict, which link both subversive, self-defence groups and organized crime groups.

Another period that links the phenomenon of displacement and forced migration appears between 1990 and the present day, all generated with the escalation of the conflict that occurred between 1990 and 2005. From this last date, the pacification processes, although they did not end with the causes associated with displacement produced a lower rate in this regard, which is currently maintained and is generated from subversive groups that remain even after the 2016 peace agreement and organized crime gangs that operate in the regions for the purposes of drug trafficking, extortion, among other behaviours.

Finally, the current scenario suggests relevant obligations in the face of the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, which is one of the appropriate actions against the phenomenon of displacement, since security is proposed in rural areas inhabited by members of demobilized armed groups, mainly from the FARC. If the objectives of the armistice and one of the aims of the agreement, such as the establishment of the peasants and the return to land in the rural area, are met, the phenomenon of displacement motivated by violence derived from the armed conflict can at least be stopped. .

However, the transition of governments may affect this process, however, mainly created institutions, such as the truth commission and the Special Jurisdiction for peace, are obliged to try to rescue the main objective of all, such as the end of the armed conflict in Colombia. If at least the phenomenon of violence that motivates displacement is met with this objective, at least it can lessen its effects without stopping the flow from the countryside to the city that remains constant, mainly for reasons of development and the absence of the State as mentioned above.


  1. BENAVIDES Farid Samir and Eduard VINYAMATA I CAMP (2011). Peace processes and initiatives in Colombia and Ecuador. First. Barcelona, ​​Spain: UOC, First Edition, 2011.
  2. FALS BORDA Orlando, GUZMAN CAMPOS German, UMAÑA LUNA Eduardo. Violence in Colombia. Volume I. Editorial Taurus. Reprint of 1962. Bogotá D.C. 2003
  3. JAIMES-AMADO María Cecilia & PRIETO SANJUAN Rafael. (2010) Justice and Peace or when all roads lead to ... The Hague. International Law No 17, Colombian Journal of International Law, 165-230. Bogotá D.C. Colombia.
  4. INTER-AMERICAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS. Case 19 Merchants Vs Colombia (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, July 5, 2004.
  5. GROUP, HISTORICAL MEMORY. (2014). Report “Basta Ya”. Chapter II. The origins, dynamics, and growth of the armed conflict. Bogotá: Presidential Department of the Republic.
  6. ITURRALDE, Manuel (2010). Punishment, authoritarian Liberalism and Exception Criminal Justice. Bogotá: Century of Man Editors. University of the Andes. Pontifical Javeriana University.
  7. SANDOVAL MESA Jaime Alberto (2018). Background of the Judicial Guarantees in Colombia in the Penal Code of 1936. Journal of the Permanent Secretariat of Mercosur. Year 6, No. 11; April 2018.
  8. URIBE VARGAS, Diego (1985). The constitutions of Colombia. Historical and Sociological Perspective. Hispanic culture editions. Iberoamerican Cooperation Institute. Madrid, Spain, 1985.
  9. VAZQUEZ CARRIZOSA, Alfredo (1986). The presidential power in Colombia. 3rd ed. Barranquilla: Ediciones Suramérica LTDA.


For Authors

Author Membership provide access to scientific innovation, next generation tools, access to conferences/seminars
/symposiums/webinars, networking opportunities, and privileged benefits.
Authors may submit research manuscript or paper without being an existing member of LJP. Once a non-member author submits a research paper he/she becomes a part of "Provisional Author Membership".

Know more


For Institutions

Society flourish when two institutions come together." Organizations, research institutes, and universities can join LJP Subscription membership or privileged "Fellow Membership" membership facilitating researchers to publish their work with us, become peer reviewers and join us on Advisory Board.

Know more


For Subscribers

Subscribe to distinguished STM (scientific, technical, and medical) publisher. Subscription membership is available for individuals universities and institutions (print & online). Subscribers can access journals from our libraries, published in different formats like Printed Hardcopy, Interactive PDFs, EPUBs, eBooks, indexable documents and the author managed dynamic live web page articles, LaTeX, PDFs etc.

Know more

Introducing DeepReview

Artificial Intelligence Based 3rd Peer Reviewer
Meet DeepReview, our 3rd reviewer in the extensive double-blind peer-review process. It's a new generation of Artifical Intelligence that works on deep neural network of machine learning to review research papers. At London Journals Press, we follow an exhaustive process of peer-review, and each article is reviewed by at least two peer reviewers and a team of editorial board members. DeepReview acts as the third peer reviewer that can detect writing styles, plagiarism (for the second time), grammar, contextual spellings, vocabulary, and quality of the article without any human biasing