Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Philippines

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Philippines, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 17 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Philippines hosted 140 refugees, most of whom have been in the Philippines for many years.

Tens of thousands of Filipinos become internally displaced every year, most often only temporarily. USCR visited the Philippines in April 1997 and issued a report on internal displacement that clarified the nature and scope of. Up to 500,000 Filipinos lived in refugee-like conditions in Malaysia.

Vietnamese Some 1,600 Vietnamese determined not to be refugees remained in the Philippines at the end of 1997. The Philippines was the only Southeast Asian country to permit Vietnamese determined not to be refugees to remain after the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees (CPA) ended in 1996. With the help of the Catholic Church, some 700 of the screened-out Vietnamese settled in a "Vietnamese Village" on Palawan Island.

In July 1996, the Philippines agreed to permit the screened-out Vietnamese to remain in the Philippines, though the government said it would continue to promote voluntary repatriation. It permitted the Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons (CADP), a local NGO, to create a village where the Vietnamese could live freely.

In March 1997, some 670 Vietnamese moved into the village. The Vietnamese helped construct the village, and former Vietnamese refugees living in other countries donated funds. CADP gave the Vietnamese basic assistance for one month, and provided loans to groups and individuals seeking to start small businesses. CADP continued to press the Philippine government to grant the Vietnamese permanent residence.

Another 350 Vietnamese whom the United States initially agreed to admit through its Orderly Departure Program also remained in the Philippines. They refused to return to Vietnam after the U.S. government revoked their entry visas for falsifying information.

Internal Displacement Although tens of thousands of people become internally displaced in the Philippines every year, their displacement is usually temporary. According to Philippine NGOs that work with the displaced, in 1996, more than 90,000 Filipinos were displaced for some period. During the first half of 1997, NGOs estimated that more than 175,000 people became displaced. They included more than 65,000 who were displaced in and around Pikit, Mindanao, in June, in the wake of a new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) offensive against Muslim insurgents. Most returned home by year's end.

During the 1980s, conflict between the AFP and the New People's Army (NPA), an insurgent group associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, displaced thousands of civilians. The AFP/NPA conflict largely ended in the early 1990s, but many of those displaced remain in Manila and other urban centers, often subsisting in what have become semi-permanent slums.

In recent years, the conflict between the AFP and Muslim insurgents has caused most displacement, particularly on Mindanao, one of the three largest islands in the Philippine archipelago. The conflict arose from Muslims' complaints that the Christian, mostly Catholic, majority in the Philippines treats Muslims as second-class citizens.

The main Muslim insurgents have been the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

On September 2, 1996, the Philippines signed a peace agreement with the MNLF. In April 1997, the UN offered the Philippines several million dollars to help implement that agreement. The MNLF's leader, Nur Misuari, was elected governor of the four-province Muslim Mindanao Autonomous Region, established in 1990. The government also offered the MNLF a major role in a special economic development zone it created in the region.

The MILF was not a party to the peace agreement and continued to fight the government. In mid-1997, a government offensive severely weakened the MILF, which on July 30 signed a cease-fire and resumed negotiations.

In April 1997, USCR visited the Philippines to assess the situation for internally displaced persons. In a report published in August, USCR said that even during the brief time they remain away from their homes, the displaced receive little assistance. When they return home, they often find their houses looted or destroyed, their crops lost or animals dead, and again receive little if any assistance.

Counter-insurgency operations by the military and armed encounters between the military and rebel forces most often create displacement. Villagers in affected areas flee to escape fighting or shelling, or because they fear the military.

The Philippines accepts responsibility for displaced persons, and national and local government agencies are supposed to assist them. But the government provides little real assistance to those uprooted. NGOs and religious groups provide some assistance, but have few resources and cannot meet displaced persons' needs.

In its August report, USCR called on the Philippines to ensure that civilians are not attacked, including by indiscriminate bombing or shelling of populated areas, that it identify and prosecute military personnel who abuse civilians or their property, and that it improve and expand its system and capacity for providing timely and satisfactory emergency relief to internally displaced persons. USCR also recommended that the government provide adequate rehabilitation assistance to internally displaced persons when they return to their homes.

Filipinos in Malaysia During 1997, the Philippines and Malaysia began discussing the possible repatriation of several hundred thousand Filipino Muslims in Malaysia, some of whom fled because of conflict in the Philippines. The governor of the new Philippine semi-autonomous region, Nur Misuari, expressed concern that their premature return could make them vulnerable to extremist groups opposed to the peace process. Malaysia reportedly told Misuari that the Muslims' return would be conducted in stages to give the Philippines time to establish shelters and jobs for returnees.

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