Displacement in Time of COVID-19 and Ramadan

Blog post by Diane Lim
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Oxfam Pilipinas IDEALS COM UnyPhil REACH Mindanao ECHO
Oxfam Pilipinas IDEALS COM UnyPhil REACH Mindanao ECHO

Barangay Kitango in the Municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao is home to several business and is known as a host for frequently displaced persons from neighboring communities such as Pikig, Malangog, Bagong Upam, Dapiawan, and Elian to name a few. Armed conflict is usually at a halt during the holy time of Ramadan. But this year, families living in Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao would celebrate Eid’l Fitr differently.

On 24th of May 2020, the celebration of Eid’l Fitr was interrupted by a 21mm mortar shelling explosion, which caused the death of two siblings of minor age (10 and 7), wounded 15 individuals, and damaged a number of homes. Hundreds of families fled their home in fear and from their damaged properties.

Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), United Youth of the Philippines – Women (UnYPhil-Women), and IDEALS, Inc. immediately conducted a rapid needs assessment in the community to identify urgent humanitarian needs of affected families and coordinated with local authorities on the incident. The team also inquired the local authorities what caused the explosion. The local government unit nor the military base command assigned in the area did not know where the mortar shelling came from or what caused it to explode. The military said they had no operations during Eid’l Fitr. They cited rido is common in Kitango so this must be the plausible cause behind the explosion.

On 27th May 2020, COM, UNYPHIL-Women, and IDEALS, Inc. provided psychological first aid (PFA). PFA aims to provide psychological support to ensure the mental need of the survivors, especially children, are addressed. The team also distributed water kits, and hygiene items to ensure that 348 displaced families are supported in their hygiene needs to avoid spread of diseases.

A total of 30 participants including 10 men, 10 women, and 10 children were given psychological first aid. Among them is Hamida, 13 years old, the eldest sister of the two minors that died from the mortar blast, while her mother was sent to Cotabato Regional Medical Center (CRMC) due to her critical condition.

During the PFA, Hamira shared her experience and the last moment she saw her sisters. Hamida was at their aunt’s house watching TV while babysitting her youngest borther when she first heard the explosion. Upon hearing the explosion, Hamida immediately grabbed her five-month-old brother and ran outside the house where she saw her two siblings running toward their mother for safety. Hamida and her youngest brother were both safe but she was then informed by her cousin that one of her 10 year old brother died.

A few moments later, she saw her uncle carrying her unconscious seven-year-old sister to the nearest clinic in their community. Clueless of what to do, she ran along with the crowd then heard her aunt cry for help with their surroundings stained with blood.

During the interview, Hamida could not help but cry as she misses her mother so much after the horror happened to their family. Young children like Hamida may feel emotional stress after being in this traumatic experience. Community-based psychosocial activities were also conducted to provide a safe avenue for people especially children, to be heard. Providing psychosocial intervention is an effective tool to help people connect to information, services and support and protect them from further harm.

This year’s World Refugee Day comes at a time of increased forced displacement due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The massive displacement from the decade-long conflict in Mindanao underscored the call for global ceasefire and for the government to prioritize the needs of the displaced families.

 The EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid – ECHO has been providing life-saving support to those displaced by the cyclical and protracted crisis in Mindanao through the #REACH Project.The project is being implemented by Oxfam, United Youth of the Philippines-Women, Community Organizers Multiversity – CO Multiversity, IDEALS, Inc., CARE Philippines, ACCORD Incorporated, and Action Against Hunger Philippines.