MANILA - Nearly 50,000 villagers in Mindanao have been displaced by recent armed conflicts between military and insurgents, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Most of the displaced population were from Maguindanao where 35,235 persons from four municipalities fled from the fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a faction of Bagsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Abu Turaifie since the end of February.
Meanwhile, new clashes between AFP and the remnants of Maute armed group in Lanao del Sur on March 11 and 14 forced 8,911 individuals out of their homes.
The Maute group was responsible for the 5-month Marawi siege in 2017 that left at least 66,000 people displaced. Many are still in evacuation centers, transitory sites, and home-based locations.
In Sulu, a total of 5,160 were displaced in the clash between the AFP and Abu Sayyaf armed group on February 25 that affected municipalities of Patikul and Tongkil where the terrorists are believed to be holding foreigners for ransom.
The OCHA reported that many of the displaced are currently sheltering in town municipalities and schools. A number of humanitarian organizations and non-government organizations along with municipal authorities have done rapid assessment of the evacuees' needs and have been providing their basic needs.
Children in armed conflicts
In a separate report of children organization Save The Children Philippines, about 160,000 children are displaced in Marawi alone.
There is no exact number of children displaced by armed conflicts in the whole Mindanao yet, but it assumed that there are at least 3 children per relocated family.
“Poverty-stricken ‘yung mga areas na ‘yun, economically poor sila, which means kaunti ang option sa buhay. Marami sa kanila ang hindi nakakapag-aral at marami ang cases ng malnutrition,” said Reggie Aquino of Save the Children Philippines, who has been making rounds in Mindanao.
(Those areas are poverty stricken, they are economically poor, which means they have a limited option in life. A lot of them are no longer studying and there are many cases of malnutrition.)
In Quezon City, the University of the Philippines offered some rooms at the College of Home Economics for 70 indigenous children who fled from the Mindanao conflict.
One of them is 16-year-old Mimi (not her real name) who has been away with her family since she was 12.
“Sobrang hirap siya. Nakikita ko ang ibang mga bata na naglalaro sila, sana ganon din ang maranasan namin,” she said.
(It’s really hard. I see other children playing, I hope we can also experience that.)