By: Pots de Leon, InterAksyon.com November 23, 2013 10:40 PM
MANILA – The exodus of thousands of people daily from places devastated by Typhoon Yolanda has created a new risk, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been helping the Philippine government and volunteer groups screen the evacuees to avoid their being doubly victimized: this time by human traffickers.
The IOM helped set up protocols for separating potential predators from the Good Samaritans, given the hundreds of civic-spirited people who helped those leaving devastated areas in the Visayas, especially Leyte and Samar.
Estimates place those fleeing disaster-stricken areas at about 5,000 daily, mostly bound for cities like Cebu and Metro Manila, where a volunteer group has been helping the DSWD ferry them to their relatives to make sure they are cared for. Those who don’t go through that processing at Villamor Air Base, however, need monitoring, especially minors who might end up with predators.
IOM has also flagged urgent vulnerabilities among those living in evacuation sites, apparently taking a leaf from past experience in evacuation centers and tent cities in the Philippines and other countries.
Initial findings from its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) registration tool indicate poor access to food, water and sanitation in a number of sites in Tacloban—a situation that predators might find fertile ground for luring people into forced labor or sex slavery. Across the Visayas, some 387,000 displaced people are now living in over 1,550 sites.
In Tacloban alone there are 44 such sites housing 15,500 individuals. Many people are also living in informal settlements in and around the city, the IOM said.
The majority of those being airlifted out of Tacloban are flying for the first time in their lives.
IOM’s Migration Outflow Desk, set up last November 17 at Tacloban’s badly damaged airport, is helping screen the evacuees. IOM works with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in collaboration with the UNHCR and the Salvation Army to screen the evacuees.
Over 1,000 people have passed through the Migrant Outflow Desk from Tacloban alone in the past five days. Some 80 per cent are headed to Manila, where they have family or friends. According to Tya Maskun, head of IOM’s Tacloban office,
“We’re gathering key including demographic details of passengers, their intended final destinations and whether or not they will have an income to live on when they arrive where they want to go.”
The plan, she said, is to “replicate the system across the affected area as quickly as possible, as there is clearly a danger of individuals being trafficked."
She added that "others are making their way to Manila by boat and by road," hence the need to check all possible exit routes from the disaster areas.
An estimated 1,000 people are leaving from Guiuan, one of the worst-affected towns, every day.
Most of the 800 or so people leaving Tacloban every day arrive in Manila and are met by family or friends. The unfortunate ones without relatives have been staying in a growing tent camp near Manila’s Jesus Villamor Air Base.
Almost half of those leaving have no means of financial support, the IOM found out.
The Visayas is human-trafficking hot spot, and authorities worry that the disruption to daily life caused by the typhoon may be exploited by criminals, especially child traffickers.
In addition to those in shelters, there are another 3.94 million people staying with host families or on the site of a damaged house, while the country remains in typhoon season, said the IOM report.
The agency said it is now focusing on poor living conditions in some shelters. While people are keen to get back to rebuilding their lives and homes – many completely destroyed by the typhoon – IOM is trying to avoid having families constantly moved as they seek permanent housing, said its report. A challenge, it said, is identifying land close enough to jobs and livelihoods in which to build new communities in typhoon-proof dwellings.