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April 30, 2024

Displaced Colombians rebuilding at home thanks to UNHCR initiative

The UN Refugee Agency’s protection mandate in Colombia is not only helping nearly three million Venezuelan refugees and migrants find safety and rebuild, but also Colombians who have been forcibly displaced within their own country. 

Despite peace agreements between the government and various armed groups, there are still nearly seven million people who are internally displaced in Colombia. Although internally displaced people, or IDPs, do not cross an international border, their experience of forced displacement and the disruption to their lives (access to shelter, education, employment and health, for example) is often similar to the challenges refugees face.

One of the most effective and dignified ways refugees and internally displaced people can build a sustainable future for themselves and their families is through access to formal employment. In Montería, Colombia, UNHCR leads the program Territories of Inclusion, which aims to create livelihood opportunities through employment training and entrepreneurship skill development. UNHCR engages local government agencies and the private sector to support the initiative.

Konecta, a global digital consulting company with offices in 26 countries, has been a key strategic ally to UNHCR’s initiative and has helped train and employ internally displaced Colombians and refugees who now call Montería home.

The program gives people like Melina, a displaced Colombian now employed at Konecta, a chance to learn new skills and rebuild with dignity.

Melina: a success story

Before a friend referred her to Konecta, Melina had never held a formal job. Originally from a rural town in western Colombia, she spent most of her life trying to escape the violence and drug trade that plagued her communities. 

She was forced to flee three times before arriving in Montería, a city in northern Colombia. 

Life in Montería was a big change for Melina. “I’m from the country, and I can cut down just about any tree with a machete,” she shares with a big smile. 

But Montería is not the country, and Melina knew if she was going to make things work for herself and her children, she would need to learn new skills.

“When I first sat behind a computer, I started to cry, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, Melina, the city is going to eat you up.’” 

The fear was temporary and with the support and digital education she received at Konecta, Melina was soon thriving in her role as a customer service agent. She was safe and was on her way to a real job but Melina still struggled with the long-term trauma of being forced to flee so many times in her life. 

“We forget about the psychological consequences of displacement, and there are days when you feel like you’ll never get out of that situation,” she says. “Having a job showed me that I can get out of the situation.”

Recalling her first day at Konecta, Melina playfully remembers feeling like she had fuegos artificiales (fireworks) in her stomach. “This job was a big victory for me.”

Melina recognizes that her journey is one of trauma, hard work and ultimately, success, and she hopes her story can inspire other women in similar circumstances.

“As a displaced person, you’re always on the move. You never have a home and sometimes you sleep on the street. You are vulnerable to violence,” she notes. “You must believe in yourself and know that what is happening to you is not your fault. You have to see how much value you have just as yourself.”

Melina is confident her journey has entered a new phase in Montería. She is laying roots for her family and recently bought a home.

How to help…

You can support UNHCR’s education and livelihood programs by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor. Your kind gift will help refugees who have fled insecurity and conflict rebuild their lives and create brighter futures for their families.

  



 

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