Evacuees who have fled war-torn Marawi City amid ongoing clashes between Maute terrorists and government troops have reached the province of Bohol, said a village chief in Tagbilaran City.
According to Barangay Captain Arlene Karaan of Poblacion 1, Tagbilaran City, six Maranao families have taken refuge inside a mosque in her village while others are staying with relatives in Barangay Taloto.
The evacuees arrived on board a large jeep on June 4 from Nasipit, Butuan via the Jagna port, based on information gathered by Karaan.
For their part, the social welfare offices of Tagbilaran City and the province of Bohol have extended aid including food, blankets, sleeping mats and other basic necessities to the evacuees.
Authorities also took photos and information including records and identification of the evacuees, said Karaan.
The village chief noted that leaders of the Muslim community in Tagbilaran City were the ones who reached out to the government informing them on the evacuees’ arrival.
According to Karaan, the evacuees also said that they have no plans yet to return to the besieged city of Marawi and are intending to stay in Bohol.
Some of the Marawi residents have been working for the small businesses of their relatives in Bohol and selling various products along streets of Tagbilaran City.
While Maute terrorist continue to occupy the conflict-affected Marawi City, more evacuees are expected to flee to Bohol, said Karaan.
Meanwhile, four weeks since fierce fighting broke out in Marawi City , some people who fled the battle are dying in over-crowded and unsanitary evacuation centers, health officials say.
At least 24 people have died in the centers since fighting between security forces and Islamist militants erupted in the southern city, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told reporters.
Alinader Minalang, the health director for the Lanao del Sur province which includes Marawi, said 300 cases of diarrhea had been recorded among the nearly 40,000 people huddled in emergency shelters set up in community halls, gymnasiums and Islamic schools.
Many of those who died were elderly and had pre-existing conditions, but at least two of the fatalities were due to diarrhea.
“The cause of the increase in diarrhea cases is sanitation issues and a lack of sources of potable water,” Minalang said.
In the centers, families of up to a dozen people sleep together on concrete floors, and in some places hundreds are sharing a single toilet.
“My children are getting sick. One has diarrhoea and another has an allergic reaction on his skin – the water we have to use here is not good,” said Tarhata Mostare, who was staying with more than 800 people in a high school hall in Iligan City, 40 km (25 miles) km from Marawi.
She walked out of Marawi City along with thousands of others just hours after delivering her fifth child, and trekked for hours with the infant swaddled in cloth and her own traditional malong, or long skirt, drenched in blood.
“We call him Martial Law,” she said, looking at her baby boy Sahir, his head now crowned with fine hair.
On the date of Sahir’s birth, May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the southern island of Mindanao, vowing to drive out the militants – an alliance of groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The army says nearly 350 people have been killed in the fighting, including 257 militants, 62 soldiers and 26 civilians. Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of a city that has been pummeled by government air strikes. Residents have said they have seen 100 bodies in the debris of ruined homes in the battle zone.
WANT TO GO HOME
The mostly Muslim evacuees are eager to return home by the weekend for Eid al-Fitr, the biggest festival of the year that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But for many, their homes have been devastated by weeks of artillery fire and aerial bombardment.
The army says it is nearing victory, but hostilities will have to be followed by a lengthy cleanup operation – unearthing and disarming unexploded ordnance, and scouring for possible booby traps – before residents can go home.
“I will be the happiest woman in the world if I am allowed to return,” said Salema Ampasong, 28, who was among about 1,000 evacuees given shelter in a gymnasium in the town of Balo-i, several miles outside Marawi.
A fruit vendor, she said she had lost all her possessions, “but I would still want to come home”. (Allen Doydora with reports from Reuters)