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Threats and bullets

The Arizala family consists of a mother, a father and their two daughters. Their life changed during a family meeting one evening in October 2021. Around 8.00 p.m., a group of armed men arrived and demanded the family give them shelter from the rain on their farm.

“We agreed, of course, but we told them to stay away. After a while they came back and asked us for permission to sleep in the house. People are terrified to say no to them, because they don’t know what group they are from”, said the mother of the home, who agreed to their demands out of fear.

Those same armed men had clashed earlier that day with another armed group in the middle of the road near the Arizala’s house.

The next morning, one of the armed men asked the mother: “Where is the girl going?.” “To school,” said the mother, to which the man replied: “No, ma’am, don’t send her to school today.”

Later that day, shots were heard and the armed men continued to stay at the Arizala’s farm. “They told me to sell them food, and they wanted me to prepare the food for them. I told them: ‘I’ll sell food to you, but you’ll have to cook it yourselves’, My husband sold them gasoline, while I sold them rice, some eggs I had and a piece of panela [sugar cake] and some coffee,” says the mother.

 “We lived in a house where it gets cold in the mornings. It is beautiful, it has two floors and several bushes. The owner had chickens and next to it was a cattle pen. We lived peacefully in the house and after the conflict we had to flee”, says Anderson.

As we approached Anderson to talk, Kaiser reacted with a suspicious growl after mistaking the cameras for firearms. "He doesn't like guns at all. He thought (the camera) was a weapon and started shooting at it. When the soldiers pass by, he shoots him by himself. Weapons make him angry, so we have to control him because they can cause us problems with that”.

Anderson's days at the municipal coliseum were long and dull. They passed between receiving the meals of the day, taking part in some recreational activities and being with Kaiser all the time. “The beautiful thing about the coliseum was how people helped each other, they were kind. When we met with the other children we sat down to talk. They told us that it was time to go get lunch and dinner. We stood in line, they gave us lunch and we washed the dishes”.

For days, confusion reigned in the coliseum where families remained sleeping in tents. Some did not know about their loved ones. According to Anderson, Social networks were flooded with images of clashes between armed groups in the area.

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Videos of men firing heavy machine guns from the top of the mountains that surround the municipality. Videos of shots from helicopters and bombings from planes.

The boys and girls from the shelter drew what they had seen and heard before leaving their homes.

Some trusted that the situation calmed down and left the coliseum. A few days later, when the clashes were reactivated, they had to return. "One boy couldn't bring his mom because the lady was sick and didn't want to go out," says Anderson.

We were very scared. We are not used to conflict.

After breakfast, the armed people left, and the conflict escalated. “We were very scared. We are not used to conflict,” said the mother.

The mother of the family had lived in that same area all her life, while the father arrived about 30 years ago. He had not wanted to stay, but then he met his future wife. “We fell in love, just a little bit,” says Mr. Arizala.

At the Arizala’s farm there were 16 cows and 14 roosters, as well as rabbits, dogs, cats, a turkey, and some chickens and hens. However, as soon as the conflict escalated, the family had to flee and leave their farm behind. They found a shelter in a nearby place and left their animals behind.

“The day I came here [to the shelter], I was upset because I had to leave behind a puppy called Mono, a crazy animal that was nursed by a cat and they became best friends,” says the youngest daughter.

The Arizala family was displaced along with more than 2,000 people who fled this area between October and December 2021 due to the armed conflict.

By abandoning their animals, the Arizalas knew that the chickens could starve, and the cows might run out of grass and invade neighbouring farms and even run the risk of activating an anti-personnel mine that would kill them.

“I have some cows that are going to give birth, all alone. You don’t know what will happen to them - sometimes [the cows] give birth to their calves, but then they die," says Mr. Arizala.

Going back

to the farm would not be possible. The conflict would not allow it.

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The Arizala family never accepted the offers they received to buy the farm because they never wanted to leave. However, this time they had no choice but to flee from the place they loved the most, their farm.

Starting from scratch is not easy. “Leaving everything behind overnight is hard. We put a big effort into the farm. That's what hurts me so much,” laments the mother.

As a result of the constant fighting in the village, the ground is littered with bullets and many of the houses have been hit. “I collected 12 kilos of bullet casings. My house was hit by a bomb that destroyed a wall and that’s why we had to leave. We don’t know when this will end,” says a neighbour of the Arizala family.

"Sometimes bombs fall on houses and sometimes they kill animals." 

Mrs Arizala says that the most chaotic thing about the conflict is the sound of the planes. It scares people, because they don’t know what kind of explosive devices they are going to drop. “Sometimes bombs fall on houses and sometimes they kill animals,” she says.

When she hears gunfire, the youngest daughter gets paralysed and cannot move. She has trouble breathing and tries to hide. Returning to their farm in the middle of the conflict is simply not an option.

Fifteen days after they were first forced to flee, the Arizala family received the news that they could not return to the place where they lived. The family had been threatened. It is possible that the threats were the consequence of them previously allowing the armed men to stay on their farm.

In Colombia, there are people and families that are caught in the middle of the conflict. If they refuse to provide what an armed group demands, the consequences can be violent; but if they comply with the demands, the other armed groups do not forgive them either.

The youngest of the Arizala daughters maintains the hope that the situation will improve: “I want everything to get back to normal, to live in peace, not to run away again. If things calm down, we can continue working. Could it be possible that with the help of God, we can return to normality in the village?” she wonders.

Unfortunately, the Arizala family was displaced again as a result of the threats. This time they moved further away and had to leave their life in the fields and their animals far behind.

Thanks to the generosity of the European Union, the family managed to make a new start somewhere far from their original home. In these territories affected by conflict, we also provide food, shelter, health care, school supplies and protection.

You can continue helping families like the Arizalas, who are affected by the armed conflict in Colombia and unable to return to their homes.

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