Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comprehensive planning on plight of refugees needed — UN mission

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Comprehensively planned efforts are needed to address the nagging plight in refuge centers of conflict-affected villagers and end the cyclical evacuation in this oft-embattled province, according to a United Nations mission.

“We have yet to develop a good plan for the internally displaced persons in the region,” said Australian Counselor Neil McFarlane of a United Nations team, who visited evacuation centers here and in nearby Maguindanao towns on March 25.

McFarlane, head of a 12-member UN-Office of the Commission on Humanitarian Aid visiting mission, said that “so much has yet to be done” to restore to normal the life of thousands of evacuees housed in evacuation centers in this province and other troubled spots of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

It was learned that the UN-OCHA delegation was tasked to conduct actual inspections of refuge centers and recommend interventions that would hasten the return of evacuees to their places of origin under better economic status.

McFarlane was accompanied by Geert Vansistjan of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Michael Curtis – head of Sector DG ECHO 01; French Permanent Mission Jean Paul Seytre; Suzanne Loughlin – New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Oystein Lyngroth – Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Emma Leonard – Ireland Irish Aid; Nance Kyloh – USAID; Gi Domingo – AusAID; and Nick Horne, Carmen Van Heese and Akiko Yoshida, all of OCHA.

The group visited three evacuation centers here where its partner agency, the World Food Program, distributed its last batch of rice loaded in 11 delivery trucks for distribution to some 11,752 evacuees who have recently returned home after their respective areas were cleared by government forces of Muslim rebels.

Each evacuee-family of five received five kilos of rice and a kilo of mongo seeds during the visit, WFP National Program Officer Michael Argonza said.

Over 33,000 individuals were displaced in at least 11 towns of Maguindanao, including this town, following the outbreak of conflict between military and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces in August 2008.

The conflict stemmed from a Supreme Court decision junking an ancestral domain deal drafted by government and MILF peace negotiators to pave the way for the inclusion of some 700 villages in an expanded ARMM area to be called Bangsamoro Judicial Entity.

Records provided by the ARMM’s Department of Social Welfare and Development said that as of March 23, at least 16,131 individuals are still staying in various evacuation shelters in Maguindanao. (Ali Macabalang)

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