Karen DeYoung's Sept. 6 news story about Colombia's displaced families pointed out that the U.S. Committee for Refugees lists 1.8 million displaced people as of December 1999. This is a cumulative figure for those displaced since 1985; some 796,000 of those were displaced between 1997 and 1999 alone.
The Colombian government figure of 300,000 to 400,000 displaced people represents only those who have registered with the government for assistance. Many displaced people do not trust the government and are afraid to register. Further, the registration system has been in place for only one year. The previous system was flawed, and because the government gave almost no assistance, there was little reason to register.
Finally, most of Colombia's internally displaced people are women and children. An estimated 77 percent of the children forced to leave their homes do not return to school. Mothers and children are forced to flee when militias-both paramilitary and guerilla factions-try to forcibly recruit children as combatants.
Executive Director Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children