Cotabato City (June 23, 2015) – After almost four months of staying in different evacuation centers, more than 120,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maguindanao have successfully returned to their respective communities, bringing the number of displaced residents in the province to zero.
During the commemoration of the World Refugee Day on June 19 in Cotabato City, Atty. Laisa Alamia, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) executive secretary, announced that as of June 4, 2015, Maguindanao has “zero IDP”.
Around 24,000 families, or about 120,000 individuals, from 11 towns in Maguindanao were displaced due to an intensified law enforcement operation launched by the military starting in February this year against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other terrorist groups.
The military operation that dragged for more than two months also disrupted classes in schools involving at least 16,000 elementary and secondary students.
In line with the observance of the World Refugee Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees conducted an IDP forum aimed at updating the public on the state of internally displaced people in Mindanao and in ARMM in particular. Various line agencies including local and international humanitarian organizations attended the event.
Part of the commemoration was the sharing of experiences of some IDPs during the intensified law enforcement operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Zainudin Ukas Mohamad, a farmer from the town of Talayan, said it was never easy living in an evacuation center noting he hopes that someday genuine peace will be achieved.
“Natutulog kami sa lupa at dahon lang ng saging ang aming banig (We slept on the ground using banana leaves as our mat),” he said. “Sana magkaroon na ng tunay na kapayapaan sa aming lugar (I hope there will be genuine peace in our area),” he added.
Saiduna Dalimbang, 16, from Nimao, Datu Piang, said despite experiencing the hardships of being an evacuee at a very young age, she does not lose hope of becoming a nurse someday. “Noong 2008 ako unang nagbakwit, Grade 1 ako noon (I first evacuated in 2008, I was in Grade 1 then),” she said.
“Sa kabila ng paulit-ulit na gulo, hindi ako nawawalan ng pag-asa na magiging nurse din ako (Despite the recurring conflict in our area, I am still hoping that someday I will become a nurse),” she added.
The United Nations established the World Refugee Day “to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.” It is a day “to recognize the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world.”
This year, the event focused on bringing to the public the side of the IDPs through sharing of their stories of hope and resilience. (Bureau of Public Information)