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Our Wandering, In Exile IDPs

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Is there a government “conspiracy” to permanently displace the Muslim residents from their burned and not-burned houses in the government-decreed no-build/danger zones in Mariki, Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina and other adjacent communities?

This was the slant of the recent assessment report of a worried United Nations Humanitarian Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) on the very bad plight of the over 100,000 mostly Muslim residents still existing as internally displaced persons(IDPs) almost a year after the September MNLF siege of Zamboanga City. In the report, the UNHCR criticized the local and national governments for failing until todate to adequately resettle or allow to return to their communities some 136,000 IDPs for alleged reasons ranging that their temporary bunkhouses are still being built, that they do not own the land where they used to live, or that their houses are located in recently declared danger or no-build zones. 

The United Nations observed that these reasons, including security concerns, violate the national and international laws and regulations on the rights of IDPs to be properly assisted to be resettled or allowed to go back home, or have no legal basis at all.

The humanitarian agency also noted that some policies and actions of the government towards the IDPs are made in such a way as to keep them confused or to await resettlement which carry no delivery or completion timelines. The report also singled out the military, saying that “For the first few months after the conflict the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed concern of the security situation and prevented return to the conflict affected areas. This was justified for some months for public safety concerns, including Improvised Explosive Device (IED) clearance. But as months past (sic) the security argument was strongly protested against by IDPs wanting to return.” Beforehand, these IDPs were displaced by a “forced evacuation” city ordinance whose constitutionality may be questioned. The President did not place the city under emergency rule.

The report also correctly noted that the majority Christian residents are antagonistic towards Muslim residents in general and this translates into their tacit approval of the government’s dilatory action/inaction towards the Muslim IDPs in particular. It warned, however, a la Jesus Dureza that this attitude can result in more related violence in the future.

In conclusion the report made the following recommendations: 1) “An immediate gradual organized return to Mariki and Rio Hondo with an agreed target population to allow for the most vulnerable families to access their livelihood in their community of origin; 2) Profiling of IDP families in ECs (evacuation centers) and the TCs  (transitory centers) to identify families from communities to support each other upon return and identify specific vulnerabilities to be prioritized and addressed;

3) Resources for the substandard bunkhouses to be used to support return; 4) With some support, livelihoods will be restored so fewer resources for basic humanitarian support will be needed.” It wrapped up thus: “Unless there is a change in the City authority’s approach, in 6 months we will be no closer to resolving the displacement problem and IDPs will continue to be living in temporary shelters dependent on humanitarian assistance and exposed to exploitation and abuse.” 

As things are going, that is very likely, which raises the question: Who, therefore, is the real enemy of the IDPs or most people for that matter and violator of their human rights? (Peace Advocates Zamboanga) tribe




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