80,000 Forced to Flee Conflict in the Philippines

Doctors Without Borders Sends Emergency Team to Aid Displaced

Manila, 21 March 2003 - The fighting in the southern Philippines has further worsened the plight of the population. Tens of thousands have left their villages, and some have fled to regions that are completely cut off from aid. The international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has sent a team to the conflict region. The fighting that broke out at the beginning of the year between Muslim rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in the southern island of Mindanao, has seriously worsened the plight of the population. Tens of thousands of civilians have left their villages, to flee south.

"More than 80,000 people have fled the bloody conflicts that have been tearing this region apart since last February," explains Roland Schwanke, MSF Head of Program in the Philippines. To qualify for Government aid, people must prove that they are displaced. However, there has been no significant increase in access to such aid. At this point, most of the refugees are being looked after either at Pikit (40,000 refugees), Pagalungan (33,500), or Pagawan (6,500). MSF has dispatched a 10-person medical team to the region. The team has begun to vaccinate 20,000 children against measles and has built emergency shelters for the displaced. It is also keeping a close watch on the food situation. At Pagalungan and Pagawan, MSF has set up mobile clinics. According to official sources, there are more displaced persons in the southwest regions of Mindanao, which are not being reached by humanitarian aid. MSF is trying to gain access to the region.

MSF has been working in the Philippines since 1997. In Manila, the capital, MSF's efforts focus on street children. We have also set up a sewage system in the Malabon district, and we will soon set up a new program, focusing on the care of undernourished children, hygiene, and access to drinking water.