Health & Education

A New Dawn

Reintegration of former Combatants

The successful reintegration of former Colombian guerrillas will be achieved only through a comprehensive approach.

By the numbers, Colombia’s civil war resulted in 220,000 fatalities, 5.7 million people displaced, and 6.7 million people recognized as victims. The aftermath of such a prolonged and bloody conflict must go beyond just the disarming and demobilizing of ex-combatants; Colombia must also reintegrate former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) following the 2016 peace deal. Meaning more math—and all educational and training subjects—is essential to the implementation of an effective peace plan and the start of a reunited Colombian society.

In January 2017, nearly 6,300 ex-FARC combatants started to demobilize and 23 transitory areas and seven camps were made available for the now ex-combatants. Once demobilized, the ex-combatants started the reintegration process, which has been based on the current framework of the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR).

In this regard, the Colombian government developed learning programs for adults and it offered new educational opportunities. Indeed, education maintains a fundamental role in the reintegration of the combatants despite the many challenges that it entails. Education efforts support employment and stability, two things surely required to properly reintegrate ex-combatants within a society, especially after over 50 years of on-going conflict.

And a lack of educational and vocational training opportunities has proven detrimental in earlier reintegration efforts. Complete and wrap-around reintegration prevents the creation of new armed groups and flows of ex-combatants into other illegal activities such as narcotics trafficking. Indeed, the Brazilian gang Primera Comando started recruiting ex-FARC members to expand its drug network and routes. Other armed groups and drug cartels offer a tempting choice because of the higher salary offered and recidivism during other reintegration processes was rather common

Research from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) suggests education is a key pillar of curbing recidivism. An ACR publication highlights the private company Exito Group’s active role in supporting the National Learning Service (SENA) to hire and train 610 participants in ACR’s reintegration process. Most recent data from ACR’s publication indicate increasing levels of education of reintegration process participants between 2011 and 2015 as well as higher employment rates among participants compared to Colombia’s general population.

ACR assigns social workers to each former combatant, who is supported in every practical problem such as opening a bank account, finding healthcare, obtaining ID card, and finally access higher education programs. Together with this, the on-going reintegration programs are taking into account also a very important factor that is the trauma generated by the war. In fact, the health dimension is one of the most critical given the high number of people affected by trauma. It is estimated that nearly 90% of ex-combatants have some kind of psychosocial affection.
The publication also presents several perspectives regarding reintegration for ARC to further improve their efforts and approaches upon which to base future work. Many of the perspectives and approaches suggest comprehensive, multi-faceted solutions—also promoted by USIP—grounded in several fields, including anthropology, sociology, economics, human development, and human rights, among others.
Community work plays a very important role as it seeks to generate space for reconciliation between ex-combatants and civil society together with the aim of generating capacities to facilitate the economic insertion of the former in to the latter.
The reintegration process is a huge challenge for Colombia. According to the ACR, data shows that there are nearly 15,043 people involved in the governmental reintegration programs among which 47% are former paramilitaries and 42% are former FARC combatants who demobilized before the peace deal was agreed. Moreover, the peace talks between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) could result in almost 2,500 combatants that need reintegration. The successful reintegration of these former fighters is imperative to ending the cycle of exclusion and violence that has racked the country for too long.