Latin America’s oldest democracy is home to the largest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) found in the world – 6.9 million people. Resulting from more than 50 years of armed civil conflict, los desplazados (the displaced) are a long-standing phenomenon in Colombia. Rooted in a combination of causes stemming from economic, political and social inequalities, the impact of Colombia’s war is enormous with more than 250,000 lives lost.

Since the Spanish conquest (16 c.) Colombian society has been highly stratified with social classes generally linked to race or wealth. Estratos (strata) is a ranking system introduced in the 1980’s as a way to identify and provide essential services such as water and electricity at affordable rates to the poor – ranking is from one (the lowest) to six (the highest). A system once designed to help poor communities has instead marginalized an entire class of Colombians. The stigma could not be greater for los desplazados, whose unofficial ranking is zero.

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