HomeWorldThe Colombian exiles looking for refuge in Spain

The Colombian exiles looking for refuge in Spain

Ana*, 38, vividly remembers the black-and-white tennis sneakers of one of many males who held her and her household at gun level of their residence as they looked for her father to kill him. It was 2001, and he or she was 18.

It was not the primary assassination try in opposition to him.

For many years, Colombia has been immersed in civil conflict, with leftist guerilla teams – the biggest of which was the FARC – on one facet and the state and the AUC (United Self-Defence), an umbrella organisation for various right-wing paramilitary teams, on the opposite.

As a younger man, Ana’s father was a member of the UP (Patriotic Union), a left-wing political occasion fashioned in 1985 as a part of an tried peace course of between the FARC and the Colombian authorities. He was additionally a human rights advocate and an activist for the Afro-Colombian neighborhood, of which Ana’s household is a component.

Hundreds of members of UP have been killed by state and paramilitary forces, together with two presidential candidates, in what turned often known as the “genocide of the UP” between 1985 and 2002, when it ceased to exist as a political occasion after failing to amass sufficient votes to stay in Congress. In accordance with CNMH (the Nationwide Centre of Historic Reminiscence), greater than 4,000 UP members, elected mayors and city corridor representatives have been focused in these killings.

Boats cruise alongside Tumaco in southern Colombia, the city the place Ana lived together with her household when armed males invaded their residence in 2001, seeking to kill her father [File: Fernando Vergara/AP Photo/File]

“Many individuals thought that my father was a guerrilla from FARC, as a result of he was a part of the UP, however he by no means was a part of an armed group,” Ana says. When the right-wing paramilitaries started taking management of Tumaco, a small city with a inhabitants of 170,000 on the south Pacific coast of Colombia, the place the household lived, Ana’s father was requested to hitch them because of his affect in the neighborhood. He refused.

One evening, in 2000, Ana’s father witnessed the execution of a homeless man by right-wing paramilitaries in Tumaco. It was a part of a spate of killings of homeless individuals, prostitutes, petty criminals and drug customers, carried out by right-wing paramilitaries to stoke terror in neighbourhoods they managed. He recognized the gunmen and reported them to the police. From that second, the household lived beneath a siege of dying threats and assassination makes an attempt.

As a result of the state-armed forces have been identified to be allied with the far-right paramilitaries in Tumaco, there was no method to ask for defense. Ana and her household needed to depart the city in 2000, and he or she turned one of many greater than 6 million individuals in Colombia who’ve been displaced by the battle.

Ana’s household moved to a brand new metropolis the place her father continued his activism with one other leftist political occasion, POLO Democrático, in addition to working with different human rights advocacy and Afro-Colombian rights organisations. However, fearing the repercussions this may spark from right-wing armed teams, he remained alone on this metropolis whereas the remainder of the household – her sister, mom and brother – lived elsewhere.

Colombia’s decades-old conflict had lastly damaged the household aside.

In 2017, after surviving two earlier makes an attempt on his life, Ana’s father was killed. A gunman the household believes was from a right-wing paramilitary group from Barranquilla arrived at his residence on a motorbike and shot him a number of instances within the chest.

A month later, a threatening nameless letter arrived on the household’s residence. Quickly after, two males arrived on bikes and instructed them to go away or be killed. So, they packed their baggage, borrowed some cash from pals and family members, bought lots of their belongings and fled. In complete, 9 family members – Ana and her siblings, their companions and their youngsters – arrived in Spain, the place they knew nobody, in December 2018.

Ana* shares empanada, a Colombian dish, together with her brother and sister at their condominium in Huesca, Spain. Ana and eight members of the family arrived in Spain in 2018 after receiving dying threats at residence in Colombia [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

The siblings had thought-about Canada and Mexico however ultimately settled on Spain as a result of there aren’t any visa necessities for Colombians to enter and keep for 90 days.

The household at present lives in Huesca, in the neighborhood of Aragón, close to the Pyrenees.

They’ve dire recollections of the primary shelter for asylum seekers they arrived at – underdressed and under-prepared for the winter climate – in Madrid. They struggled to regulate to sharing a shelter with 100 different individuals, the place they may not cook dinner for themselves and the meals was poor.

However quickly Ana and her siblings landed their first jobs in Spain, as extras on a TV present. They have been paid simply 3 euros and a sandwich every for 10 hours of labor, however with that cash they have been in a position to purchase some meals outdoors the shelter. After they have been relocated to a brand new shelter in Huesca, the very first thing they requested was if they may cook dinner and, when instructed sure, they have been “screaming and laughing” in pleasure, Ana says.

In Spain, Colombians can keep for as much as 90 days with no visa, however after this they need to get hold of permission.

The method of making use of for asylum, for Ana’s household, has been bittersweet. It doesn’t all the time make sense. Her sister, Maria*, was denied asylum in June 2020, despite the fact that it was granted to Ana and her brother throughout the identical course of. The official clarification was that the Colombian authorities had signed a peace accord with the FARC, and the nation was due to this fact protected for her sister to return to. No clarification was given as to why this had not been utilized within the case of Ana and her brother. Her sister is now making use of for a “household integration” residence allow, on the premise that she has a toddler who was born in Spain in 2020 and who has Spanish nationality.

Members of the Frequent Different Revolutionary Drive, the political occasion fashioned after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) disbanded, attend a vigil in honour of former rebels who’ve been murdered for the reason that peace accord in Bogota, Colombia, on March 8, 2020 [File: Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

An try at peace

Ana and her household are amongst 400,000 Colombians residing in exile all over the world, in line with a current report from CNMH. In Spain, 27,556 Colombian residents utilized for asylum in 2020, in line with information from the Ministry of the Interior of Spain, a staggering rise from the 656 Colombian asylum seekers in Spain in 2016. It’s arduous to say precisely what number of Colombians reside in Spain proper now as a result of, whereas some transfer on to different nations or return residence if they will’t get asylum, others stay illegally.

In 2016, then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace treaty with the FARC that aimed to convey peace after many years of armed battle.

However since then, the conflict has raged on in Colombia regardless and reprisals in opposition to former FARC fighters have continued. In accordance with the political motion Comunes (the FARC’s political occasion), greater than 250 ex-fighters have been killed.

The ELN – the biggest left-wing armed group in Colombia for the reason that FARC was demobilised – has a robust presence in giant elements of the nation, whereas right-wing paramilitaries proceed to function and compete for management of various areas. The “cocaine financial system” stays a serious a part of the political and financial panorama. And the present president, Ivan Duque, and members of his right-wing political occasion, Centro Democrático, have been reluctant to implement the peace agreements, largely as a result of they don’t agree with the FARC turning into a part of the mainstream political course of in Colombia, and need members to be tried as criminals as a substitute.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations Excessive Comissioner for Human Rights, denounced the rise of violence in Colombia in December 2020. The UN has documented massacres, killings of minors and the murders of human proper advocates and ex-FARC combatants within the nation.

College students march throughout an indication in opposition to a wave of massacres in Bogota, Colombia, on September 21, 2020 [File: Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

‘A frontrunner doesn’t falter’

Even within the relative security of the Basque Nation in Spain, Lucia* fears for her security and for the lives of her household again residence in Colombia. In 2019, she was declared a “navy goal” by one of many FARC dissident factions and compelled to flee her residence.

Lucia, 49, is what’s termed a “líder social” (social chief) in Colombia; even in exile, she continues to really feel like one. “I nonetheless talk with individuals again at residence, they inform me their issues, I search data and proceed to remain involved, that’s my life,” she tells Al Jazeera. “I take it that manner, a pacesetter even with all of the ache and struggling that they see or undergo, a pacesetter doesn’t falter, they proceed to go forward, and that’s the manner I really feel.”

In Colombia, social leaders are those that have a management function of their communities; political activists, human rights defenders, Indigenous and afro-Colombian leaders, environmental activists and LGBTI rights activists. In accordance with a current report by Human Rights Watch, greater than 400 social leaders have been killed for the reason that 2016 peace accord.

Lucia believes that she was focused due to her work to halt the circulate of minors being recruited by unlawful armed teams, FARC dissidents and right-wing paramilitaries. The one “authorized” teams in Colombia are state safety forces, police, military, navy and the air pressure – all different navy teams are formally unlawful. Via organising cultural and sports activities actions for younger individuals, she and different neighborhood leaders in her area talked to younger individuals in regards to the worth of peace and the implications of conflict and violence, in an effort to stop them from becoming a member of these teams.

Colombian refugee Yezid Arteta, a former FARC fighter, who lives in exile in Spain, exhibits the pocket book he saved throughout 10 years in Colombian prisons [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

She additionally reported recruitments of younger individuals to the UN verification mission in Colombia, which capabilities to confirm the reintegration of former FARC members into political, financial and social life, and to achieve safety ensures for them and their households. She was approached by a FARC dissident fighter in 2018 and instructed to go away. She says she tried to speak to the commander of the dissident faction, however the choice about her pressured displacement had been made. She went to Spain.

Violence was nothing new to her. On many events, she discovered herself caught within the crossfire of the Colombian military and the FARC; she noticed the bullets that hit civilian homes and colleges in her space. Even after the 2016 accord, the clashes between the dissident faction of FARC, proper wing paramilitaries and the Colombian military continued in her space. “The FARC fighters of earlier than are the identical now,” she says, which means she believes many won’t ever demobilise.

In 2019, when Lucia arrived in Spain she was assisted first by the Crimson Cross. Then, 4 months in the past, CEAR-Euskadi, an NGO that provides help to asylum seekers, discovered her a spot in one of many flats they use to obtain asylum seekers within the Basque Nation.

It’s only lately that Lucia, who remains to be going by way of the method of making use of for asylum, has began to really feel she is recovering mentally from the ordeal of shedding her residence, her household, her pals and her work. This sense of profound loss is widespread amongst refugees and exiles, she says.

Lucia says she is “going forward with my life”; she intends to start learning and becoming a member of feminist activist teams within the Basque Nation. However like many different asylum seekers, she is ready for the ultimate choice on her case earlier than she will be able to make plans for the longer term.

Yezid Arteta is a former FARC commander who was shot and captured in Colombia in 1996. He spent 10 years in jail earlier than being launched and fleeing to Spain slightly than being pressured again into armed battle. He managed to safe an educational job which has allowed him to remain [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

After gunmen arrived, he packed up and fled

Requests for asylum have to be granted by the Ministry of the Inside in Spain, and a case ought to be determined inside six months of the appliance being made. Nevertheless, many take longer to course of and there’s no information on the common period of time.

One purpose for the delays stands out as the unprecedented variety of refugees who’ve been coming to Spain lately – proper up till the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 118,446 individuals utilized for asylum in Spain – greater than double the earlier 12 months. A big quantity have been from Colombia, Venezuela and Honduras.

If asylum is granted, the asylum seeker might be granted residence and work permits. If asylum is denied, the particular person can enchantment. If that enchantment fails, the particular person is anticipated to go away the nation with a purpose to apply for an odd, everlasting residence and work allow as a substitute, however this course of could require sponsorship from an employer and candidates should display they’ve the means to help themselves and any members of the family for a 12 months.

Yezid Arteta was one of many fortunate ones. A former FARC fighter within the Nineteen Eighties, he spent 10 years in prisons in Colombia after being shot within the leg and captured in 1996. On his launch in 2006, he went to Spain slightly than danger being pressured again into armed battle. He now lives in Segur de Calafell, about an hour’s drive from Barcelona, and, as a substitute of acquiring asylum, was in a position to safe employment with the Peace Tradition College of the Autonomous College of Catalonia.

Many failed asylum seekers don’t depart the nation, however stay illegally. After 5 years, nevertheless, they are going to have the ability to apply for a brief work allow so, for some, operating the gauntlet of 5 years with no work or residence allow is well worth the effort.

Adalberto Trillos, who fled Colombia after being shot at, was instructed his asylum utility in Spain had been refused in 2013. After 5 years residing beneath the radar, he now has a brief work allow and earns cash as an informal labourer [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

One Colombian residing in exile in Spain who has gone down this route after having his asylum request denied, is Adalberto Trillos, 58, from Norte de Santander in japanese Colombia. He now lives close to Plaza Eliptica in Madrid, the place many migrant staff come to supply their labour to employers in building who can pay money in hand.

Again in Bogotá, Adalberto was a part of an affiliation (he’s reluctant to say which one for safety causes) engaged on behalf of displaced farmers who wished the federal government to grant them land on which to work and stay. The organisation additionally suggested displaced farmers on find out how to get hold of state safety in return for denouncing these liable for their pressured displacements.

After gunmen – he has no thought which group they have been affiliated with – arrived at his home in Bogotá and shot at him by way of the door in 2007, Adalberto packed up and fled to Spain.

He didn’t have the cash to convey his spouse and two youngsters with him and had no thought how lengthy he could be gone. Thus far, it has been 14 years, with only one go to to Colombia in 2015.

He utilized for asylum as quickly as he received off the aircraft at Barajas worldwide airport in Madrid. However after six years in limbo and no clarification as to the delay, in 2013, his asylum was denied on the premise that his life was not thought-about to be at risk in Colombia. He then needed to apply for one more kind of residence allow that he was in a position to get hold of as a result of he had been residing in Spain for greater than 5 years, and was granted a 10-year work allow in 2013.

Adalberto says he doesn’t like having to face within the sq. on daily basis to ask for work. He finds the labour exploitative as a result of it’s paid under minimal wage. However discovering work continues to be a problem – much more so in the course of the pandemic. “There have been days that I went to mattress with out consuming,” he says. Even with a brief work allow, it’s troublesome for Adalberto to discover a regular job. Usually he finds short-term jobs as a handyman or building employee.

Adalberto Trillos on the condominium in Spain that he shares with a household from Bolivia. Regardless of being shot at in Colombia, he has did not be authorised for asylum in Spain. He now works as an informal labourer on a brief work allow to get by whereas he applies for everlasting residence [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

House from residence?

Colombian exiles in Spain have skilled a blended reception. Spain has seen a development of anti-immigrant sentiment, and the far-right political occasion, Vox, is rising in recognition. Whereas in 2015, Vox had no candidates within the normal elections, within the final normal election in 2019, the occasion managed to acquire 52 seats out of 350 with the fourth-most votes.

Ana and her siblings say they’ve skilled racism and xenophobia since they arrived. Ana’s sister, Maria, says that when she wished to register the delivery of her little one, born in Huesca in 2020, an official requested her why she had come to have youngsters in Spain if she was not Spanish. “I’m robust however that day, she broke me, I started to cry,” she remembers.

Ana want to be a social employee, however says she has by no means seen a Black or immigrant social employee throughout her time in Spain. “Many people include a narrative of ache behind us, however many in Spain don’t acknowledge this,” she displays.

The homicide of her father precipitated her nice trauma. In Colombia she was afraid of bikes approaching. Her brother has to remind her that Spain is protected, as a result of she has felt afraid of strolling alone at evening, however one factor is definite; she gained’t return to Colombia.

Followers of the Spanish right-wing, anti-immigration VOX occasion attend a rally held to help the occasion’s candidate for the Madrid regional elections, Rocio Monasterio, in Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain, on April 25, 2021 [File: Fernando Villar/EPA-EFE]

Mateo Gutierrez, 24, from Bogotá, says he feels welcome and in a protected place within the Basque Nation. He’s nonetheless ready for a call on his asylum request, which he utilized for when he arrived in 2018. He lives in Gasteiz within the Basque Nation, the place he works in a bar within the metropolis centre. The political and cultural heritage of the Basque Nation is one thing that pursuits him and feels acquainted, he says. He feels that the previous battle within the Basque Nation helps locals to have a greater understanding of conflicts elsewhere and, due to this fact, extra empathy together with his scenario.

In 2017, Mateo was charged by the Colombian Normal Prosecution Workplace with being concerned in a collection of low-level bombings in Bogotá between 2015 and 2017. He was arrested and spent 21 months in Bogotá prisons – La Picota and La Modelo. He was accused of being a part of the MRP and ELN (leftist guerrilla teams) and was charged with terrorism. He was declared harmless in 2018 in his first trial and freed. 5 days later, nevertheless, he fled to Spain, fearing that the authorities may attempt to discover one thing else to cost him with.

Mateo is studying Euskera (the Basque language), has a Basque girlfriend and is starting to construct a life in Gasteiz. He desires to return to Colombia, however he feels that he doesn’t have the authorized ensures that he could be protected. If the asylum request he made in 2018 is authorised, he is not going to be allowed to return to Colombia within the subsequent 5 years or he’ll lose his asylum in Spain.

Andrea Aldana, 39, a Colombian journalist pressured to flee to Spain, sits on a bench close to the condominium she shares with different Latin American journalists in Madrid, offered by Reporters with out Borders [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

Can we ever return?

An investigation by the Colombian weekly information journal, Revista Semana, in 2020 revealed that greater than 130 individuals – international and native journalists, social leaders, activists, NGO staff and politicians – have been being actively adopted and profiled by the Colombian Nationwide Military in 2019. Andrea Aldana, 39, a Colombian journalist, was certainly one of them.

Andrea arrived in Madrid in December 2020 through a brief safety programme run by Reporters Without Borders for journalists at risk of hurt in their very own nations. This was not the primary time she has needed to flee Colombia for reporting on battle points in her residence nation – in 2010 and 2012 she left for Ecuador and Argentina.

On certainly one of her first reporting assignments, in 2008 for De la Urbe, a neighborhood media information organisation primarily based on the College of Antioquia in Medellín, Andrea investigated stories about individuals who had allegedly been killed by the Colombian military and whose stays have been filling up the vaults of the small-town cemetery of Frontino within the Antioquia area.

With a colleague, she entered one of many vaults and noticed first-hand the stays scattered there, many with gunshot wounds within the cranium.

When she left the cemetery and went again to her resort, she says, a person knocked on her door and instructed them they higher depart instantly, in order that they did. They went to the principle freeway and a automotive pulled up with three males who received out and stood close to them. They started to speak loudly to one another and bragged about how that they had killed a girl by dragging her from a transferring automotive.

Andrea and her colleague have been in a position to get on a bus again to Medellín. “The concern I felt was horrendous, I felt like peeing, you don’t know find out how to reply, you’re one other particular person. I understood that was the concern the individuals in these rural areas really feel on daily basis. The domination, the must be silent in entrance of an armed particular person.”

Andrea Aldana, a Colombian journalist residing in exile in Spain, continues her work masking battle points in her residence nation. She is in Spain beneath a brief safety programme run by Reporters With out Borders, and has no thought if she’s going to have the ability to return to Colombia [Mauricio Morales/Al Jazeera]

Since then, Andrea has felt a duty to inform the tales of battle from the agricultural areas the place the conflict is extra intense, however her newest investigation of the Colombian state safety forces has landed her in exile. After her 90 days in Spain as a “vacationer” from Colombia is up, Andrea faces a troublesome selection between going again to Colombia or making use of for asylum in Spain.

In the meantime, in Huesca, Ana is worrying about her mom who remained in Colombia. Now that she has been granted asylum, she can’t return to Colombia for at the least 5 years with out invalidating her asylum declare. Her principal concern is for her mom’s well being and whether or not they are going to see one another once more.

It’s the similar query that lingers for a lot of exiles in Spain: Will it ever be protected to return to Colombia?

*names modified for anonymity

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