In the municipal plenary session of Friday, 30 July, the City Council of Lleida passed a motion recognising Colombian exiles and migrants living in the city and surrounding area.

The proposal received the support of all the Council’s political groups: ERC-AM, PSC, JxCat Lleida, Comú de Lleida, Cs, and PP, all voted in favour of the motion.

This initiative was launched by the Coordinating Committee of Development NGOs and other solidarity movements in Lleida in coordination with the Catalonia Node in support of the Truth Commission of Colombia and ICIP (International Catalan Institute for Peace).

According to Carme Campoy, board member of the Coordinating Committee of Development NGOs, “the work of the Colombian diaspora – about 3,000 migrants and exiles in Lleida – is an example to follow to promote coexistence, social cohesion and peace.”

“It is essential that the citizens of Lleida and its institutions recognize and support the work towards the building of a stable and lasting peace in Colombia by the diaspora and the victims of the armed conflict living in the city,” she added.

The dignity of the victims

The motion that has passed focuses on the dignity of the victims and ensures that their processes of resistance and resilience, and their contributions to peace in Colombia and Lleida, are publicly recognized by institutions and host societies.

The approved text “recognizes the contributions of civil society organizations in Lleida to a sustainable and lasting peace in Colombia and support of the Colombian migrant and exiled community.”  It was also agreed to hold a meeting with representatives of the Colombian diaspora and exiles, together with solidarity organizations in Lleida, “to publicly recognize their dignity, work and contributions to peace in Colombia and their host community.”

According to the local census, 2,952 Colombians (1,553 women and 1,399 men) live in Lleida, which amounts to 2.1% of the city’s population.

During the last few months, ICIP and the Catalonia Node have organized several workshops with the Colombian community of Lleida, in coordination with the Department of Education, Cooperation, Civil Rights and Feminism of the Lleida City Council and the Coordinating Committee of Development NGOs.  These workshops provided information about the peace process in Colombia and victims’ rights. Also, they identified the specific needs of the Colombian community in the capital of the comarca of El Segrià.

One of the people who participated in this process is Marina Camargo Jinete, a victim of the conflict who has lived in Alcarràs for three years.  In the presentation of the motion in the plenary session, Camargo spoke of her experience as an exile in El Segrià:

“The Colombian community living in Lleida is very grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality we have received.  We are here to say thank you on behalf of the refugees.  For the Colombian community, this motion is like a tree that gives us shelter and a feeling of belonging, protection and welcoming among the Catalan people,” she said.

María Rosario Vásquez, the spokeswoman of the Catalonia Node, also participated in the plenary session and ended her speech by talking about the restorative effect this motion has for victims living in Catalonia.

An educational process led by ICIP

ICIP was one of the main promoters of the motion that passed on Friday.  The institution has acted as the Technical Secretariat of the Truth Commission of Colombia since 2018.  Its role is to enable any victim of the conflict to provide their testimony and reconstruct historical memory and reconciliation.  It also works to familiarize host societies with the peace process in Colombia and the Colombian people who live among us.  With this goal in mind, fifteen spaces for citizen participation called “nodes” have been created in ten European countries, with the Catalonia node being one of the most active.

In this context, ICIP has proposed the promotion of municipal motions in support of victims living abroad.  Lleida has become the first city to support this initiative and has thus become an international model for other cities and international institutions.

“There is little awareness that people are living among us who have been victims of war and who have had to rebuild their social and professional life in a foreign country.  We want to recognize the courage and dignity of these people and facilitate their integration in Lleida,” says Ana Isabel Barrera, also a Colombian victim and a technician in ICIP’s area of Memory, Coexistence and Reconciliation.

A historic peace agreement

After fifty years of war, on 26 September 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group signed a historic Peace Agreement.

As a result of the Agreement, the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition was created to identify the causes of the armed conflict and guarantee the right of victims and society to truth, justice and reparation and thus prevent new wars.  The Commission will present its report at the end of this year.

According to the Truth Commission, of the more than five million Colombians living abroad, at least 500,000 are war victims.