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The Desire to Return during Civil War: Evidence for Internally Displaced Populations in Colombia

  • María Alejandra Arias , Ana María Ibáñez EMAIL logo and Pablo Querubin


Armed conflict in Colombia has forcibly displaced more than 3.6 million people. In a post-conflict scenario, the socioeconomic stabilization of displaced households is crucial, as families must decide whether to stay in the reception place, relocate to a new municipality or return to their site of origin. In this paper we identify the determinants of the desire to return of internally displaced households in Colombia. We find that i) land tenure in the place of origin provides an incentive to return; ii) vulnerable households, in particular female-headed households and those from ethnic minorities seek to establish themselves at the reception site and exhibit a lower desire to return; iii) those who displaced as a consequence of a direct attack are less willing to return; iv) economic opportunities in the place of origin encourage return while economic opportunities at the reception site decrease the willingness to return; and v) social networks, as exemplified by membership in peasant organizations and collective land ownership, increase the desire to return. To be successful, the design of stabilization programs for the displaced population must consider these particularities of the households that are willing to return and those who prefer to stay in the reception site.

Corresponding author: Ana María Ibáñez, Department of Economics, Universidad de los Andes, Calle 19A No. 1-37 Este Bloque W, Bogota, Colombia, E-mail:

We want to thank the Episcopal Conference for providing the data from the RUT information system. We also thank the editor, two anonymous referees, Jairo Arboleda, Fernando Calado, Klaus Deininger, Diana Grusczynski, Myriam Hernández, Isabel Lavadenz and Fabio Lozano.

  1. 1 retrieved on April 5th 2013.

  2. 2

    The two other sources on the internally displaced population in Colombia are Red de Solidaridad Social –RSS (the government agency in charge of providing support to the displaced population) and CODHES (an NGO).

  3. 3

    Similarly, the RUT dataset exhibits a smaller fraction of ethnic minorities which is also the result of the church’s weaker presence in areas where ethnic minorities are more numerous.

  4. 4

    Wage employment corresponds to individuals who report one of the following occupations: teacher, construction worker, domestic worker, public official, miner, professional or technician.

  5. 5

    Self-employment corresponds to individuals who report one of the following occupations: trader, cattle rancher, fisherman, street vendor, and miscellaneous jobs (oficios varios).

  6. 6

    However, some of these employment figures must be interpreted with caution, due to some possible problems with RUT’s employment information. The employment status is self-reported by surveyed individuals. As such, RUT’s employment categories might not coincide with standard employment definitions. Another important issue is that RUT’s questionnaire does not give any information with respect to the quality of employment.

  7. 7

    Moya, A., (2013), Violence, Psychological Trauma, and Induced Changes in Risk Aversion in Colombia, Unpublished work.


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Published Online: 2014-01-10
Published in Print: 2014-01-01

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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