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Ghosts in the big city: surviving and adapting to internal displacement in Colombia, South America

Ramírez, Elvia; del Pilar Gómez Ramírez, Arely; Santos, Clara Gesteira; Chaskel, Roberto; Espinel, Zelde; Shultz, James M.

doi: 10.1097/WTF.0000000000000128
Field report

The signing of the truce on 23 June 2016 and the finalisation of peace negotiations on 24 August 2016 marked the end of more than 50 years of continuous armed conflict in Colombia, South America and the transition to ‘post conflict’ status. According to annual reports from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre based in Geneva, Switzerland, Colombia has ranked first or second in numbers of internally displaced persons every year for the past 12 years, making forced migration a defining characteristic of the country. This is based on the personal reflections of a mother and daughter (ER and AdPGR) who were displaced from rural Colombia and resettled in the nation's urban capital of Bogotá. They survived the rigors and hardships of displacement and became capable counsellors on a global mental health project, bringing evidence based interventions to a highly traumatised population of internally displaced women in Bogotá. Their account speaks to the lived experiences of more than six million Colombian internally displaced ‘victims of the armed conflict’. Particularly notable is the description of myriad trauma exposures prior to the moment of displacement. This field report demonstrates how personal accounts are a useful tool for educating clinicians working with these populations.

Elvia Ramírez, Bogotá, Colombia

Arely del Pilar Gómez Ramírez Bogotá, Colombia

Clara Gesteira Santos, M.S., Ph.D. Departamento de Personalidad, Evaluacióny Tratamientos Psicológicos (Psicológicos Clínica), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

Roberto Chaskel, MD. Head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá, Hospital Militar Central,Universidad El Bosque,Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota, Colombia

Zelde Espinel., MD,M.A.,M.P.H. at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, USA

James M. Shultz, M.S., Ph.D. is Director at the Center for Disaster & Extreme Event Preparedness (DEEP Center),University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, USA email:

© 2016 War Trauma Foundation, Diemen, The Netherlands