Getting back on their own two feet

Project description

Project title: PROINTEGRA – Economic Integration of internally displaced persons and host communities in Norte de Santander
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) Special Initiative ‘Tackling the root causes of displacement – reintegrating refugees’
Country: Colombia
Lead executing agency: Colombian Presidential Agency of International Cooperation (APC)
Overall term: 2015 to 2019

Colombia. Displaced people from rural areas have settled on the periphery of the city of Cúcuta. © Mision Cúcuta Scalabriniana / GIZ

For more than six decades, Colombia was gripped by armed conflict between guerrilla organisations, paramilitary groups and the Colombian army. Despite of the recent peace negotiations between the government and the guerrillas, the root causes of the conflict still persist, including land disputes, inadequate access to natural resources, and the abuse of human rights. All told, at least 220,000 people lost their lives; around a million were murdered, abducted or were the victims of forced disappearance, torture and rape.

Almost six million Colombians have been displaced within their own country. Robbed of their livelihoods, they have settled on the outskirts of big cities. Most of these poverty areas have little or no access to public utilities or services. Very few people receive appropriate psychosocial support to help them deal with the often traumatic experiences they have had, and they often lack the stability and self-confidence to find new employment. Many of these displaced people get by as street vendors or in casual work on the informal labour market. It is almost impossible for them to access start-up capital to set up a small business. There is very little provision for this group, and the support that is available is only short-term. As a result, it is especially difficult for them to find economically viable employment. The Colombian Government wants to use the peace process to make it easier for this group and other disadvantaged people to gain regular employment.


Internally displaced people and people of the host communities are able to overcome individual, social and economic barriers to taking up regular, economically viable employment.

About 190,000 internally displaced people live in the north-eastern region of Norte de Santander, close to the border with Venezuela. More than 60 per cent of them are living in poverty. The PROINTEGRA project was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to stabilise the economic situation of both the displaced people and the host communities. To this end, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is assisting state and non-state partners in Colombia to adapt their activities in support of the internally displaced more effectively to that target group. For example, they are working together to overhaul existing psychosocial support programmes, and they have devised ways of promoting small businesses. The project also advises local and municipal councils on legalising the currently illegal settlements. This improves the access to public services for people living in the slums.

The project is also working with regional and local authorities, and with the Unit for Comprehensive Care and Reparation to Victims. It supports returnees or internally displaced people who are being resettled in establishing livelihoods in rural regions and resuming agricultural production. Innovative solutions from across the regions are identified and integrated into the project’s policy advice. This promotes good practices at other levels of government and allows for their wider dissemination.

The project is part of the BMZ Special Initiative ‘Tackling the root causes of displacement – reintegrating refugees’. This provides assistance at short notice for both refugees and host communities. In the long term, sustainable measures reduce the structural causes of displacement, such as social inequality and food insecurity. This project contributes to the integration, reintegration and social development of the internally displaced and returning populations in Colombia.

Results achieved so far
Already at the outset of the project, 40 internally displaced people benefited from support enabling them to set up a small business. Thanks to their higher incomes, the situation has also improved for more than 200 of their family members. Meanwhile, by participating in a two-month training course run by the project, a further 116 displaced people acquire construction skills, which have greatly enhanced their chances of finding employment in the rapidly expanding building sector.

The project has established a working relationship based on trust as the foundation for cooperation with state and non-state institutions in Colombia. GIZ is providing training to partner institutions that will allow them to deliver better, more citizen-oriented services. The shared aim is to adapt the existing support to the actual needs of target groups. This will ensure that, in the long term, internally displaced people as well as members of the host communities enjoy better income opportunities. Ultimately this will promote both economic independence and social cohesion.

Colombia. The project supported Myriam Gómez in establishing her small stationery and copy shop © Mision Cúcuta Scalabriniana / GIZ