Monday, May 4, 2009

Philippines has most internally displaced persons in 2008: Report

This is from the Tribune (Manila)

This is rather surprising. One would think that there would be more in Iraq or Afghanistan. I imagine most of the displaced are in parts of Mindanao where there has been considerable conflict after the peace treaty failure. Rebel commanders wreaked havoc for a while and then the AFP took back most of the territory but civilians fled the area as their homes and property were ruined by the battles.

RP has most displaced persons in 2008 — report
05/03/2009
The country chalked up another dismal world record yesterday after a United Nations-backed report stated the biggest number of internally displaced people last year was in the country where an estimated 600,000 Filipinos fled fighting between the government and a break-away faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) that sought to create a Bangsa Moro homeland for the rebels.
The report said the common agent of displacement in the country has been the Army, “operating across the country against communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, and in Basilan and Sulu provinces against the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as against the MILF throughout Mindanao and particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on Oct. 14 last year that the MoA-AD was unconstitutional. The ruling was issued a day before the agreement was signed in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.
The report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council stated that international efforts failed to reduce the number of those internally displaced by conflicts around the world which was unchanged from the previous year at around 26 million, the highest level since the mid-1990s
Break-away groups of the MILF led by three of its base commanders conducted pillages and killings in parts of Mindanao in response to the SC decision. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in turn, sent 10 battalions of soldiers to Mindanao to contain the atrocities.
The IDMC said conflict and displacement have continued for many years in the Philippines.
It said the government’s response to displacement has been mixed, with frequent discrepancies between policies and their implementation.
“The quality of assistance has varied according to the center into which internally displaced persons have been evacuated, due to the inconsistent implementation of guidelines and standards,” it added.
“Before the last upsurge in fighting, it was estimated that conflict had displaced more than two million people since 2000,” it said.
By the end of 2008 only low-level fighting persisted, but it continued to cause displacement and more than 300,000 people remained unable or unwilling to return to their homes, according to the report.
It also cited development projects backed by military support as disproportionately affecting indigenous groups who are also mostly displaced.
“Two groups have been particularly vulnerable to displacement: Moro people living in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, and indigenous groups whose territory is rich in natural resources,” it added.
The report also said counter-insurgency operations against the NPA have often resulted in human rights violations against civilians suspected of supporting the insurgents and caused regular displacement although on a smaller scale.
“While most displacement has been short-term and localised, with people returning to their homes as soon as fighting has subsided, some groups have remained displaced for years where insecurity has continued,” it said.
IDMC said internally displaced persons have faced many threats to their physical security and integrity, while facing barriers to their enjoyment of the basic necessities of life, education, property, livelihoods and other rights.
“With no access to their lands, they have been forced to engage in irregular, low-paid jobs to survive,” it added.
Displaced children, many of whom have had their education interrupted by their displacement, have been vulnerable to trafficking, recruitment into armed groups,
malnutrition and health problems due to their prolonged stay in overcrowded emergency centres, it added.
It said, moreover, that many of those who managed to return still have acute assistance and rehabilitation needs.
It noted that despite genuine government efforts to assist the displaced and improve its response, more remains to be done.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has responded to the recent situation in Mindanao broadly as it would for displacement caused by a natural disaster,without taking into account the specific protection problems and the risks of protracted displacement, it said.
Coordination and response mechanisms could be further decentralized and the government could be more open about the severity of emergencies, allowing international agencies to better fund assistance programs, it said.
In past years UNDP led the UN response to internal displacement in the Philippines, with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) focusing on the protection needs of vulnerable groups including displaced persons.
In October 2008, however, coordination between agencies responding to the Mindanao emergency was minimal, and so the UN informally extended the cluster approach to the conflict there, a year after activating it in response to natural disaster.
By the end of the year, however, no agency had been formally designated to lead the protection cluster, it said.
Chito Lozada

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