MANILA - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Philippines on Thursday noted the "improving" delivery of humanitarian assistance to those displaced from Marawi City, where clashes between government troops and terrorists have raged on for a month.
Yasser Saad, UNHCR's Philippine head, said their organization saw a strong government-led humanitarian response that provides basic services to evacuees.
“We have 300,000 people displaced, and the vast majority of them are home-based, so they are hard to reach and hard to seek and the others are in evacuation centers, but we have a strong government-led humanitarian response and we see a regular organization of the response so far,” Saad said in an interview with ANC.
The health department on Tuesday said more evacuees have gotten ill in evacuation centers as the crisis continued in the southern city
Saad said he has seen efforts to improve water and sanitation access. But he could not speak about all evacuation centers in Marawi's neighboring Iligan City as the UNHCR does not have full access to different areas.
“I cannot provide a full picture, I think we don’t have full access to different areas. It would be premature on my part to make an assessment of these issues. Some progress needs to be made to meet all the needs, but in my opinion, we are working in that direction together with other humanitarian [organizations],” he said.
While commending government response, the UNHCR official expressed hopes that the crisis would not drag on for long.
“The shorter it gets, the better. In the meantime, I think efforts to better coordinate our response would eventually lead to an appropriate level of assistance for everybody,” he said.
If the situation continues, it would be more difficult for the displaced to wait to return to the homes, he said.
Meanwhile, Saad lauded the Philippines for its “very longstanding contribution” to humanitarian assistance.
“The Philippines has been offering asylum to different groups of people from different nationalities. So we have a strong tradition of humanitarianism in the Philippines, and this is great for us, the humanitarian agency in charge of protection and relief for displaced people to have such countries ready to provide asylum if needed,” he said.
Throughout history, the Philippines has accepted refugees, among them White Russians in the '20s, Jewish refugees in the '30s, the Vietnamese boat people in the '70s, and refugees from East Timor in 2000.
More than 230,000 Marawi residents have fled from the conflict zone as fighting continued, while 500 are known to remain trapped. At least 26 civilians have been killed by enemy fire since the clashes began on May 23.