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Lost Territories

Lost Territories

According to a UNHCR report of March 2013, 4.7 million people have been internally displaced in Colombia. There are various situations that lead to displacement. This series presents one of them, a massive displacement of indigenous communities in the Department of Chocó, where the internal conflict has become significantly more intense.

In May 2014, paramilitary forces entered the indigenous territories of Upper Baudó (Alto Baudó). Because these territories are under historical control of the National Liberation Army (ELN), confrontations began between these guerrilla forces and the paramilitaries. 2,800 people of 26 Embera indigenous communities left their village, which faced a possible escalation of the conflict. They took refuge on Catrú, the most important Embera village in the area. With a tripled population the village was confronted with a critical humanitarian crisis in an isolated region. Despite the poor sanitary conditions and the lack of food, the communities stayed more than four months. They are composed of large families with many infants and young children. They fled in fear of the actions of the armed group and the land mines left in the fields. They were also afraid of recruitments and acts of reprisals against a population who had lived in a guerrilla region.

In addition to the direct consequences on individual and family life, displacement has further effects. The indigenous lifestyle is built around its boundaries and the social representation of territory. The loss of their territories deeply destabilizes the unity of these indigenous people because it also weakens the social, political and cultural structures of this society. For these reasons I built this series based on the relationship between refugees and lost territories.

The photographs are organized in a double-panel series, showing the lost territory on the left and the displaced population on the right. Today, the displaced population have returned to their communities, but the dangers they face remain. Upper Baudó territory is a strategic area for all the armed groups, including the Colombian army, since it is a corridor to the Pacific Ocean. Currently, the population is living there with little food and confined in their homes. They fear going out and potentially having dangerous encounters on the way to their fields or urban centers.

[This reportage was conducted with the support of the Coordinador Nacional Agrario de Colombia (CNA)]