Exiled Colombians provide DNA samples in Barcelona to find missing family members at home

Those searching for loved ones hope to get answers after decades in the dark

A nurse takes a blood sample from one of the Colombians searching for disappeared family members
A nurse takes a blood sample from one of the Colombians searching for disappeared family members / Gerard Escaich Folch
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

November 8, 2022 06:54 PM

November 8, 2022 06:55 PM

"My father disappeared in 1990 and I have been in limbo since then," Viviana Andrea Cifuentes López told Catalan News on Tuesday after leaving a sample of her DNA with a Colombian group searching for missing people. 

Cifuentes López is one of the over 30 exiled Colombians that traveled to Barcelona to find their loved ones, who disappeared years ago because of the Colombian conflict. She traveled from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to get some answers about where her father is. 

"I tried to look for him in Colombia, but everything was part of an exitless maze," an emotional López explained. "Going to the spot where everything happened is very dangerous and after all these years, you probably will not find answers, but now I am confident I will find my father," she added.

Her trip has been organized by the Colombian 'Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas' missing persons group (UBPD). This association was founded by the national government after the 2016 Colombian peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

Viviana Andrea Cifuentes López is searching for missing family members / Gerard Escaich Folch

All the DNA samples were taken at the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation headquarters located on Via Laietana avenue in Barcelona. 

Those who attended "are relatives that have long been in touch with the research group asking for us to respond to their requests to find their loved ones," Claudia Marcela Figueroa Bernal, one of the medical forensic team, told Catalan News.

"This is the first time the UBPD has organized this kind of DNA sample testing abroad," Figueroa Bernal added. It is all part of a bigger campaign, as attendees have two other activities during the day their DNA sample is collected.

Family members start with a one-to-one interview with one of the forensic scientists to learn more about the missing person, especially physical descriptions, before getting the DNA sample. 

Then, they are part of a group conversation with other exiled Colombians and members of the organization to explain the long path they have taken to get where they are now. 

Conversations are a way to "discover painful truths that we did not know until now," Andrés Pérez Berrio, who is looking for his big brother that left their home when Andrés was only 14 years old.

DNA will hopefully be the answer to his prayers after spending decades in the dark as "the largest amount of information is my body," he said. "All of us here, we are fighting for a lot of people, there are hundreds of thousands of victims. This is why we are here, to build a future, slowly, but with patience and united."

Barcelona, first city in the world

The UBPD chose Barcelona as the first location to collect DNA samples from Colombians in exile. Around 30 people have traveled from Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Spain to take part in this process.

The Catalan city was chosen as the collaboration between the UBPD and the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation "has made it possible to centralize all operations here," Figueroa Bernal said.

DNA sampling is just one of the many activities. There were also several interviews with forensicists and geneticists from Barcelona Autonomous University, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona's Vall d'Hebron hospital, and the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Catalonia.

"It all has been possible thanks to the relations between the Catalan and Colombian authorities," after years of sharing "information and setting up constant conversations," Yoya Alcoceba, the director general of development cooperation at the foreign ministry told Catalan News.