By Peter Drury, Peter Drury, Representative of the Colombian Truth Commission – UK
“Get out of here, I will not answer for the consequences if you don’t leave.” “Stop your complaints and campaigning you and your sort have been declared a military target.” “We invite you to your funeral, with deepest sympathy”.
Years of threats in the context of Colombia’s long-running internal conflict. Space for people to live normal lives squeezed between the two sides in this dragged-out war. Demands by civilian communities to armed actors to respect their lives are so often deemed an expression of support for the other side. Being labelled an enemy is so often a death sentence, people have no option but to abandon their homes, their lands, their families, their lives. Fleeing is sudden, unplanned, not voluntary. It is not a choice.
From one day to the next lives are forcibly changed. These changes are not decisions taken by the individual but forcibly made by the person with the gun. So many times, armed incursions into rural communities by armed groups have resulted in rape, torture, mass murder, forced disappearances.
A clear message of terror to the survivor: “get out or you’re next”. The same message is sent to activists – human rights defenders, land defenders, trade unionists, environmentalists, people campaigning for LGBTQI+ rights people whose work challenges the interests of powerful sectors, don’t conform to the views of armed groups.
So often there is no choice you either leave the country or you are dead. Then you arrive in a new land just to be confronted with skewered stereotypes – “oh you’re from Colombia you must be a drug-trafficker”, “you came to take away the jobs” “you all women are domestic or sexual workers”.
The experience of exile is part of the violations committed in the context of the Colombian war, whilst the refugee may find safety, they have to confront feelings of loss, feelings which come from being torn from family and friends, loss of your professional career and trajectory, the food, landscapes and sentiments that shaped your life. Feelings of guilt or sadness that may come from having to leaving the work in which you were engaged for justice, or even feelings of cowardice “I left but others remained”.
Your life can change in a blink of an eye.
In a new initiative The Colombian Truth Commission is encouraging people to take part in an Instagram Filter initiative “In the blink of an eye”.
The aim is to confront the prejudice that refugees confront, to make clear that seeking asylum is something imposed on people through fears to their safety. This is crucial at a time when language and policies in different parts of the world tend to present refugees as criminal.
Blink. Take a picture – you will see your face in a different background – that of Exile (Exilio).
Send the picture to firstname.lastname@example.org and @ComisionVerdadUK/I.
We will collate photos on a mosaic which will be shown on several websites.