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  • A young girl who received aid from UNHCR in Venezuela June 18, 2011.

    A young girl who received aid from UNHCR in Venezuela June 18, 2011. | Photo: EFE

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have moved to neighboring Venezuela to flee violence during the country's conflict.

The United Nations has thanked Venezuela for its assistance of more than 200 Colombian refugees who have fled because of the continued threats of paramilitary groups operating in former FARC strongholds of the country.

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In a press release, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, said that Venezuelan authorities were able to quickly help the displaced people from the Catatumbo region in Northern Colombia across from Venezuela's neighboring Zulia region. Zulia Governor Francisco Arias, social movements and community leaders were also praised for their actions.

The Colombian government and the FARC signed a historic peace deal in November to end 52 years of armed conflict. Yet as peace rolls out across the country and FARC rebels demobilize, many civilians in rural areas face increased risks of violence because other smaller paramilitary groups are filling the void of the FARC’s presence.

Local leaders and human rights defenders, in particular, have been at risk from violence. Between Aug. 29, 2016, and Jan. 29, 2017, 317 violations of human rights were identified, perpetrated by groups related to the paramilitary forces, according to a report by social movement Patriotic March.

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While peace is marked down on paper, implementing the deal and improving security over the long-term arguably remains Colombia’s biggest challenge for the future. The five-decade conflict has killed over 220,00 people and displaced close to 7 million people, mainly from rural areas.

In December, the UNHCR said that Colombia needs to better assert a state presence in rural areas to foster a sense of trust and prevent violence in the future.

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