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Philippines: Mindanao Returnees Operation Update Report n° 1 DREF n° MDRPH040

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Situation Report
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Summary of major revisions made to emergency plan of action:

This update is issued to inform the two months’ time frame extension of the operation until 31 January 2021.

Tightening of movement restrictions due to COVID-19 caused delays in the scheduled repatriation process from Sabah, Malaysia to Philippines. Hence, as of 31 October only 1,968 of the target 5,300 returnees have arrived in-country. Due to this, activities planned under the operation such as delivery and distribution of hygiene kits, jerry cans and sleeping kits were delayed. These items are given as the returnees arrive from Malaysia.

The Local Government will continue the repatriation process until all 5,300 returnees will be repatriated back to the Philippines. Repatriations are scheduled on a 15-day interval. Resumption of the arrival of returnees on 12 November 2020.

A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the disaster

A large-scale movement of people from Sabah, Malaysia to the Philippines commenced on 30 June 2020 through which 5,300 Filipinos are expected to return in groups of up to 400 people in 15-day intervals. The first group of 395 people arrived by sea on 18 July 2020. Zamboanga City, where a PRC Chapter is present, serves as processing area for the returning Filipinos from Sabah (REFS). Returnees are tested for COVID-19 in Malaysia pre-departure and go into quarantine upon their arrival in the Philippines, either in Zamboanga City or in their home provinces. Returnees have been in detention1 in Sabah for 6 to 12 months pre-return.

As of 8 October 2020, 5 batches have arrived in country with a total of 1,968 individuals;

18 July - arrival of batch 1 with 395 individuals
29 July – arrival of batch 2 with 394 individuals
13 August - arrival of batch 3 with 400 individuals
28 August – arrival of batch 4 with 379 individuals
25 September – arrival of batch 5 with 400 individuals

These 1,968 individuals were sent to their respective Local Government Units (LGU): 1,568 to Zamboanga, 20 to Basilan, 151 to Sulu and 229 to Tawi).

The returnees are comprised of men, women and children and while some are in family groups, many have returned as individuals. Disaggregated data is collected and summarized in the following table.

Since 1970s, migrants from Mindanao have migrated to Sabah fleeing conflict and economic deprivation. Many of the returnees have resided in Sabah for many years or born in Sabah and had established lives and families in Malaysia. Some of the returnees no longer speak the language/s of Mindanao. The main driver of the migration from Mindanao is the perception of better livelihood options in Sabah together with security concerns in some parts of Mindanao that have further challenged peoples’ livelihoods.

While the process of returning Filipinos from Sabah has been ongoing for several years, this action is of concern due to the large number of returnees in a short period of time and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and imposition of quarantine measures and travel restrictions have interrupted the routine repatriation process and required the Filipino returnees to remain in detention facilities in Malaysia. The COVID-19 pandemic and the requirement for quarantine mean the Malaysian and Philippine authorities have agreed that only Filipinos with a family connection in Mindanao will be part of the repatriation, and people with no remaining family/kinship connections in the Philippines will remain in Malaysia through the COVID-19 pandemic period. The presence of COVID19 in Sabah highlights the need for supporting a carefully managed repatriation process.

The Philippine government has formed a taskforce to oversee the repatriation and the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the Bureau of Quarantine will serve as lead agencies of the inter-agency group. The Philippine government requires all returning Filipinos to undergo COVID-19 testing and a 14-day quarantine to control the local transmission of the virus, and the return of groups of people in 15-day intervals reflects this protocol.

Based on assessments conducted through key informant interviews with returnees who have arrived, immediate needs include food, essential household items (blankets and sleeping mats), WASH (jerry cans, hygiene kits, and handwashing facilities), health inputs (mosquito nets, IECs, first aid and psychosocial support services including psychological first aid), and Restoring Family Links services.

In April 2017 IFRC launched a DREF for CHF 72,088 to support the PRC in assisting Filipino returnees from Sabah, Malaysia. The sinking of a vessel that previously transported the returnees prompted suspension of repatriations in September 2016, which led to a backlog of approximately 7,000 undocumented Filipino migrants in Sabah, and a rapid increase in returns when transport was again available. The DREF supported 4,446 Filipino returnees from Sabah with essential household items and welfare services. As PRC chapters had no previous experience working with migrant issues such as the Sabah returnees, PRC with IFRC developed a training manual to guide staff and volunteers in roles and responsibilities for responding to migration and displacement issues, followed by national and chapter level training with staff and volunteers. Since then PRC chapters in Mindanao have continue engaging with returnees with basic services through their chapter budgets.