MANILA - The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Philippines on Tuesday began facilitating the issuance of government identification cards to displaced Marawi City residents, a crucial step in helping evacuees start afresh as they return home in the wake of the five-month conflict.
In a statement, the UNHCR said it partnered with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for the issuance of IDs to Marawi City residents, many of whom lost vital identity documents as they fled the firefights. The pilot was held in Pantao Ragat town, Lanao del Norte.
The residents were also registered in a text broadcast system through which government may blast "information to be shared with the displaced population." It would also serve as a channel for displaced residents to raise their concerns with authorities.
The refugee agency said obtaining proper documentation is critical for the internally displaced, as this would help them get access to basic public and social services like education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities.
“In safeguarding the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable, we hope to reach the displaced population from the Marawi conflict to accord them full and equal enjoyment of their freedom of movement and access to healthcare, education, and employment,” UNHCR Philippine head Yasser Saad said.
The PhilHealth IDs will also serve as the evacuees’ proof of identity needed to pass through checkpoints imposed in some parts of Mindanao, where martial rule remains in effect.
Unless lifted, martial law is expected to remain in effect in all of Mindanao until the end of the year, per the extension that Congress had granted upon President Rodrigo Duterte's request.
The Commander-in-Chief had imposed a 60-day martial rule in the region on May 23, when clashes erupted, and sought its extension in July as firefights continued.
“The loss of documents also limits freedom of movement and amplifies the risk of harassment, exploitation or arbitrary arrest, and detention, especially in light of the imposition of martial law in the southern Philippines,” the UNHCR said.
Government on Monday announced the end of hostilities between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City following five months of firefights.
Some 1,100 people, most of them terrorists, were killed in the fighting, while more than 200,000 residents were forced to flee to evacuation centers or seek shelter with relatives residing in other areas.
Government has begun efforts to rebuild the city, a once bustling commercial center left in ruins by the firefights.