MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, has been helping restore hope and rebuild the lives of Marawi evacuees now staying in neighboring Iligan City.
According to government data, there have been 78,466 families or 359,680 persons displaced as of August 18 due to the ongoing siege in Marawi City. Majority of them are home-based, while the rest stay at government-managed evacuation centers in Iligan City and neighboring municipalities.
Most of these people fled with nothing but their clothes and some things they managed to carry. (READ: On the frontlines of humanitarian for families fleeing conflict)
“We’ve been here for two months already, but we are still not used to living in an evacuation center. My grandchildren, for example, have gotten sick already,” said 100-year-old Moreg Sarakan in their local language.
The grandmother is one of the evacuees who has been far from home for two months now.
She walked by foot to reach Buru-un, which is 40 kilometers away from her home. She said that airstrike attacks were prevalent in their area. (WATCH IN 360º: The Marawi humanitarian crisis)
“Sometimes I can still hear the sound of gunfire, and I am overcome with fear again. With our houses destroyed, I wonder how we will rebuild when the fighting is over.”
Sarakan added that they long for home, no matter how humble theirs is. She only hopes for peace to come back in Marawi.
Longing for kins
Fatima Lumabao has her own story to tell.
The 49-year-old mother has 8 children – 4 of them are still missing.
“I cry every night wondering where my children are. One of them is just a 10-year-old boy, and sometimes I dream of him calling my name for help,” she said.
Lumabao tries to be strong by finding comfort and refuge from the other families she has met in the evacuation camps, who went through the same traumatic experiences. However, she still cries at night when reminded of her missing children.
“A lot of people here care for me while I try to cope. I may be smiling now but at night, when everyone is asleep, that’s when I yearn for my family to be complete again,” she added.
Aside from providing plastic mats, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, and other everyday needs to the evacuees, UNHCR also provides moral support by bringing one of their advocates, broadcast journalist Atom Araullo, to the affected families.
Araullo talked to the people and asked for the concerns they are facing.
“At this point, it’s really more of a day-to-day survival in evacuation centers. I hope the conflict does not drag on for years, and while families are temporarily displaced here, how are they going to live? They cannot rely on dole-outs all the time,” he said.
He also added that more than the daily needs, families need to go back to their respective communities in order to completely rebuild their lives.
UNHCR also makes sure that the rights of the internally displaced people are being safeguarded. – Rappler.com