Rebuilding From Refuge: How Victims of the Marawi Crisis Are Surviving

UN Refugee Agency Advocate Atom Araullo visited refugees in surrounding areas.
IMAGE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees / V. Villafranca

More than 359,680 persons have been displaced as a result of the Marawi crisis. Their stories are each more tragic and and more courageous than the last, but it isn't over for them yet.

Hope is not lost for survivors like Fatima, a mother of eight who still hasn’t seen her four missing children, and elders like Moreg Sarakan, a 100-year-old woman who walked 40 kilometers with her family to find shelter. They are only two in a sea of thousands who are all seeking to rebuild their lives.

One helping hand belongs to journalist and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Advocate Atom Araullo who, with the UNHCR team, visited the evacuation camps in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur to see what was happening on the ground.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of evacuation centers surrounding Marawi for internally displaced persons (IDPs). One of these evacuation centers is a madrasah (Arabic school) in Iligan City, that serves as a temporary home for 315 families and an estimated total of 1,500 IDPs—all of whom are taken care of by 59-year-old teacher Ustadz Adbulkarim Ambor, who uses his own limited resources to provide for those he has taken in.


An estimated 7,100 families have sought refuge in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte—the municipality with one of the most IDPs.

In the Buru-un Evacuation Center in Iligan City, people have taken to writing letters to the President that they pin to a board.

Mindanaoans are no strangers to seeking refuge. Araullo himself shared stories he heard from families who fled Maguindanao, only to flee again from Marawi. “I think most of the displaced families here really want one simple thing: to live a life free from that kind of anxiety, from that fear that all the future holds is conflict,” says Araullo.

While evacuation centers do provide for day-to-day survival, they are only a short-term solution to the plight of the victims of the Marawi Crisis. After all, many IDPs are forced to start from scratch, with no money, no belongings, and no home. They need more than food, shelter, and emergency aid—they need jobs, education, homes, and stability. In protracted displacement, these things are hard to come by.

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“The longer these families stay in evacuation centers, the harder it will be for them to get back on their feet,” Araullo explains. While refuge is a building block, it isn’t a long-term solution.

Aside from rebuilding, another pressing concern of the refugees is their safety. After rushing to leave their homes, many IDPs lack proper identification, and this can restrict their movement and liberty. With Martial Law in Mindanao, they’ve only become more vulnerable.

“I have spoken to evacuees who expressed fear of security forces on top dealing with terrorists in their communities. Unfortunately, some even had negative experiences with those who are meant to protect them,” Araullo shared.

To ensure the cycle is broken, Araullo stresses the need for Filipinos to “keep the conversation going” by staying updated on the situation as it unfolds—and this requires us to be critical of the reports we hear. “Aside from mainstream media and traditional sources of information, there are many groups and actors on the ground, like UNHCR, who are closely monitoring the conflict. This is also a great opportunity to understand the root of violence in this part of the country,” Araullo says.


Many organizations have taken to donating, but Araullo explains that there’s more than one way we can give hope to the families of Marawi—primarily, to make sure that Marawi remains a priority to the people.

“Make your voices heard! Use any means, including social media, to ask questions from our leaders and encourage them to develop and share their plan to address the issue in a wholistic manner. One of the most important things is making sure that we continue supporting those who have been affected so they can rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.”

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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