U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Philippines

Only 42 screened-in (determined to be refugees) and some 1,400 screened-out (determined not to be refugees) Vietnamese remained in the Philippines at the end of 1996. A total of 867 screened-out Vietnamese repatriated voluntarily from the Philippines between January and July. Although the Philippine government concluded a Memorandum of Understanding for an Orderly Return Program (ORP) with Vietnam in February 1995, it did not return any Vietnamese through the ORP that year. The Philippine authorities carried out their first – and only – ORP return on February 14, 1996, sending back 88 Vietnamese on that date. Many of those due to be repatriated went on a hunger strike several days before their departure, and nearly 1,000 other Vietnamese formed a human barricade to try to prevent the Philippine authorities from repatriating the group on the day of their departure. UNHCR reported that, according to objective NGOs, the authorities did not use excessive force. Following the returns, the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines protested the government's actions. Also in protest, some 700 Vietnamese escaped from Palawan camp. The Philippine authorities subsequently announced that they would not forcibly repatriate any Vietnamese, making the Philippines the only first-asylum country in Southeast Asia to offer all remaining Vietnamese asylum seekers permanent refuge. As planned, UNHCR ended its financial support to screened-out Vietnamese on June 30. Beginning in July, Catholic Assistance for Displaced Persons (CADP), a local NGO, assisted the estimated 1,400 screened-out Vietnamese remaining in Palawan. The Philippine government continues to encourage the Vietnamese to repatriate voluntarily, and UNHCR provided the Philippine government a lump-sum contribution to assist any future returns. CADP plans to transfer the Vietnamese to a new site in Puerto Princesa, on Palawan Island, where the mayor has agreed to allow them to establish a "Vietnamese Village." UNHCR continues to extend protection and assistance to the 42 screened-in Vietnamese who remain in the Philippines. The group is housed at the Refugee Transit Center in Manila, and UNHCR continues to seek third-country resettlement for them. According to the UNHCR office in the Philippines, however, that has been difficult because many in the group have medical problems. There are about 360 other Vietnamese in the Philippines, persons whom the United States initially agreed to admit through the Orderly Departure Program. They were transported from Vietnam to U.S. processing facilities in the Philippines, but the U.S. government subsequently revoked their entry visas, most often accusing those concerned of having falsified information. The 360 have refused to return to Vietnam, and the United States continues to refuse to admit them. The Philippine armed forces and the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army, continued their 26-year-long confrontation, but, as in recent years, at diminished levels. In April, a new round of fighting in another long-standing conflict, that between government forces and the Muslim Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), left 34 dead and displaced more than 6,000 families. The MNLF has sought a separate Islamic state on the Philippine island of Mindanao, at the south of the Philippine archipelago, whose population is about one-quarter Muslim (Filipinos are predominantly Catholic). According to press reports, more than 125,000 people have died during the past 24 years as a result of that conflict. The government and the MNLF agreed to a cease-fire in late April, and began talks that concluded with a peace agreement in late August. The Philippine authorities agreed to the establishment of a semi-autonomous region comprised of four predominantly Muslim provinces in Mindanao. In September, thousands of MNLF fighters laid down their weapons. The chairman of the MNLF was elected governor of the region. Estimates of those who have been internally displaced as a result of the two conflicts varied markedly. However, almost all conflict-related displacement appears to be temporary, and only a very few people can be considered to be internally displaced at any given time.

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