UN body finds no refugees in Zambo PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 25 January 2014 13:07

The crisis that lasted for about three weeks in the city last September has forced thousands of families, including women and children, to flee their homes and heade for evacuation centers. Although most have already returned home since the armed conflict between a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government forces was resolved, still, over 4,000  families, or 21,000 individuals are still taking temporary shelters at evacuation centers and temporary resettlement sites scattered in different areas here, while government is working on “building back better” communities for them. These remaining people have lost their homes to fires and explosions, as well as their means of livelihood during the height of the siege.

However, there are no refugees here, explained an official from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA).

The 1951 Refugee Convention that established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or the UN Refugee Agency defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” None of said characteristics can apply to those affected by the siege in Zamboanga.

As local and national stakeholders have emphasized, including Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Undersecretary Jose Lorena and Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, the crisis in Zamboanga is “not an issue of religion or of culture”, nor for any other similar reasons.

In a media orientation conducted by the City Government in coordination with UN and international humanitarian agencies last November, it was explained that the proper term to be used in referring to the people affected by the Zamboanga crisis is “internally-displaced persons”, or IDPs. The UNHCR, in its website states that “unlike refugees, IDPs have not crossed an international border to find sanctuary but have remained inside their home countries.”

“Even if they have fled for similar reasons as refugees (armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations), IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government,” the website added.

The UN-OCHA official explained, “proper use of terms may seem to be a petty issue if not an issue at all to many, but it creates an impact nonetheless.”