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Forced to Flee

Children in a house damaged by typhoon, Maypon village in the Philippines
(Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Tens of millions of people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, but unlike refugees who are protected by international law, they remain within the borders of their own countries. They are the displaced.

Some of these people have been driven out by war, others by economic or political forces. Most have been displaced by natural disaster.

These two IRIN films tell the story of two very different communities of displaced and the terrible challenges they face.


Philippines Script

Pepito Arquero used to be a lucky man.

Until the day a typhoon struck and took away his wife, his income and his future.

18 months later, he’s still homeless, still jobless and still living in the one room temporary shelter where he and his children were evacuated.

Life is not easy.

“If I will tell it to you … very many problems for me. I have a lot of problems.

I have a lot of problems but I just take it easy. Because if I put it in my heart - all the problems I have encountered – then maybe someday you will find me in the mental hospital.”

But mental illness is no laughing matter in this family. The eldest of Pepito’s six children witnessed her mother’s death.

She hasn’t spoken a word since.

“I worry about the future of my children because if I die, no one will feed them. No one will care for them.

But I’m not losing hope. Someday, I will become maybe richer than before.”

Before, that is, the afternoon of November 30 2006 when Typhoon Reming hit the Philippines.

Before flash floods brought thousands of tons of sand and stones crashing down the side of the volcanic Mount Mayon, smothering the rice fields, houses … and people in its path. 

By the time the storm had passed 1,000 people were dead and more than 10,000 had been made homeless.

Within minutes, Pepito’s life had changed forever.

When my wife died I learned to cook. My children cannot cook so I have to cook their food.

I enjoy cooking … if there’s some food to be cooked!

Pepito has a sister who still lives close to his former home and she gives him whatever food and money she can spare.

But life has become monotonous routine for Pepito and his fellow displaced, and all that’s left to them is the memory of the things they lost.

I remember when I ate my lunch, there were so many … dishes. So many foods in front of me. I had … soft drinks, cold soft drinks.

Desserts … fruits … before … but now look. Nothing except rice and vegetables … cooked vegetables. .

It’s a very miserable life. But I can face it.

Back in Pepito’s former village of Maipon, the destruction is still plain to see.

Maipon lies just a few kilometers away from the camp he is currently living in but to Pepito it feels like a lifetime away.

“If you go to our place you will see the place is covered with sand and stones. So no more rice field.”

“I feel so sad when I remember. When I go to this place, you know, I feel very sad. I remember my wife. Now it’s very painful for me. When I go back to this place I remember the moments when she was still alive.

“This is the pillow that my wife used … the pillow that my wife used.”

I had one hectare – from here up to there. But now it’s grassy – sandy soil. The rice will not grow very well in this particular soil.

Before, I had a rice field; I had a car – a taxi – no more! No more rice, no more fish, everything is nothing”

All around Maipon, people are clinging to what’s left of their lives.

But the government has declared the area a permanent danger zone and wants all people living within an 8 kilometer radius of the volcano to move before another disaster strikes.

Amongst Maipon’s coconut groves the houses remain largely intact, and people can still grow cassava and some vegetables in the volcanic sand.

As a consequence, many people still live here - but as they know only too well, they’re living on borrowed time.

Pepito’s sister Anna is one of them. Her house is less than 100 metres away from Pepito’s old house and so long as she can stay here and cultivate then Pepito knows that he and his children will not starve.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.


NGOs, local government, and the Catholic Church are building houses where the homeless are being resettled, away from the threat of the volcano.

The houses are basic and cramped but it’s a definite improvement on the transit camps they’ve been living in for almost two years.

Pepito has just found out that he and his family have been given a new house here at this site and he’s come to see it.

Although he’s grateful to be given a free house, he knows it won’t be the end of his family’s problems.

This is smaller. My house before was bigger than this one. We have no space at all. No playground.  

But it’s still a house to live in. It’s okay for me.

But even in their new homes they will continue to live in the shadow of Mount Mayon - and the forecast for the displaced still looks stormy.

Anislat resettlement village is almost finished and some families have been living in their new houses for 6 months already.

Chat Mirafuentes works for a local NGO and although she can afford to rent an apartment in town, chooses to stay here with her community instead.

But Chat is worried.

She’s glad to see the displaced being rehoused but realized soon after moving here that rebuilding lives takes more than bricks and mortar.

The solution for displaced families is not really just giving them a house. It is, how will they live in that house, how will they stay in the house for the long term- everything that they need is already there.

Displaced families can be truly safe if they have all the things that they need in their new place.

Top of the list is jobs, but the sad reality is that most of the adults living in Anislat are jobless.

Some alternative livelihood programmes have been set up - like this one teaching handicraft skills – but despite the best efforts of the charities working here, these programmes reach only a few.

Most of the people of Anislat have never done anything but farm and now that they’ve lost their land, they have few places left to turn.

Reynaldo Mirafuentes is typical.

Today, he and his wife have come to Anislat’s makeshift church to collect the keys to their new home.

I’m happy because we have a new house. A house where we can shelter if another typhoon like Reming hits us.”

But as soon as the priest has moved on to bless his neighbour’s house, Reynaldo is changing out of his Sunday best and heading back to his farm.

His village is well within the declared danger zone and was badly damaged by the typhoon, but Reynaldo has put his back and months of hard work into clearing as much of his land as he can, and for the first time in two years, he’s been able to plant rice.

He’s all too aware that this puts him back in the shadow of one of the country’s most active volcanoes, but knows that if he doesn’t farm he won’t be able to support his family.

So Reynaldo spends most of his time here on the farm while keeping his family back in the safety of the resettlement village.

As far as he’s concerned, the new house at Anislat offers little more than shelter.

Me, I can’t promise to stay there, because I have to earn a living to feed my family and there is no living for me there.

Privately, local officials worry that these resettlement villages could end up as slums and Chat Mirafuentes has already noticed disturbing changes.

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Maybe some of the women will turn to some form of prostitution just to get some money – so maybe that number will increase.

Stealing is already on the loose – some of our youth here, they have no food to eat, so in their mind it is the easiest way they can have money - so they steal.

And according to Chat, so many people have lost their livelihoods that many of their children are forced to leave school and work.

In this place there were young children working as labourers for the constructions.

I interviewed one youth yesterday – I saw him working in construction and I asked him how old are you – he said I’m only 14.

Why are you working? Are you not studying?

No I’m not studying because my family does not have the finances to send me to school.

I hope for a better future but in our present situation it can be impossible.


DRC Transcript

Photo: IRIN

Minova is just one of dozens of makeshift centres where civilians try to shelter from the war. A recent surge in violence has forced thousands of families to flee from the country side to come this lake side market town.

The camp they living in is congested and chaotic. Cholera and malnutrition are common.

With nothing to eat, the displaced people whose homes are not far away try to return to cultivate their fields each day. But with fighting in the hills around town they are vulnerable. They only move in groups.

Bachibola Muvunga fled to Minova eight months ago from her farm just an hour’s walk away when rebels paid her brother a visit.

‘He was in his house eating when six rebels came to his house and asked him to step out. They told him not to worry, they said they wanted to ask him a few questions. My brother told them not to harm him. He left his food and went outside. Once he was outside they shot him in the head. That is how my brother died.


Because of that we ran away to Minova. All the neighbours ran away...   There is no one there and there all of us moved to Minova. After my brother's death and the frequent rapes, we had to run away.’

Bachibola tries to go to farm her fields every day but the journey is risky.

‘That is my house down there. I can't go there because it is very dangerous. I am sad I cannot live in my own house. But we are afraid to go back, because the rebels are killing our people.’

Cecile Nyanzira was shot while walking to her field hoping to harvest her crops. She was caught in the crossfire between the Congolese army and rebels. Her husband carried her to Minova’s only hospital.

The hospital is understaffed and has only the most basic medicines and equipment. With only 30 beds it struggles to serve more than150,000 people.

Doctor Tarsis :

‘We are so close to the war zone and these kinds of cases arrive here fairly often.

For example this lady, she has taken so much time to get here from where she was shot, her wound is already infected. Obviously this is going affect things.

I just wish that our hospital were better equipped with an ambulance, and the right kind of equipment to be able look after cases like this.’

Unable to treat Cecile’s leg, Doctor Tarsis has appealed for help to transfer her to a better-equipped hospital.

This camp was set up spontaneously and food distribution is irregular. The biggest worry for the displaced is where the next meal will come from. Six hundred children who live in this camp are vulnarable.

Shamard Shamalirwa works for the UN in Minova. Today he has called a meeting with some community members to find out the challenges that the displaced are facing.

Shamard: Is there anyone else who wants to speak?

Claude: I am an IDP from Ngungu. During the war in our area, the rebels came and we had to run away. I ran away with my wife and 3 children. On our way, we were kidnapped by the rebels. Ever since then, I don't know where my wife and children are. After a while, I escaped and came to Minova.

Shamard: Is there anybody else who want to speak?

Asumane Yahaya: Since we arrived here, we are very hungry. Our women have to go to the fields to look for work. There are men in the fields who strangle them. These men rape our women as well. A woman was hanged in the hills recently. We felt terrible about the incident.

There have been eight hangings in Minova between April and May this year. Victims are lured into the fields with the promise of work, and then set upon by gangs who sell the ropes for use in black magic.

Magdaline Nyabagurizira survived one of these attacks. She was brought to the hospital by her husband.

‘My wife had gone to the farm. Someone had given her a job. Upon reaching there, two men hanged her with a rope. I thought she was dead. I looked for her for two days in vain. I really thought she was dead. Some goat herders showed us where she was. Our children are suffering. There is no one looking after them. I am here at the hospital, so I have no means of providing for them. My wife is very sick. War broke out where we lived. We decided to run away and save our lives. We did not know we would have the same problems with security here.’

Violence against women has been a hallmark of the war in Congo.

Codance Mukashema :‘The rebels came on Thursday and destroyed the kiosk. They stole all the goats. Then they came and grabbed me. I struggled and I cut the rebel's nose, then another rebel came from behind and hit me with the butt of his gun. They all hit me several times and I became weak. After that, they tied up my hands and legs. Then they raped me. Five of them. After I was raped, my husband ran away. To this day, I do not know where he is.

I am taking care of our children on my own.

Life belongs to God.

If I decide to die... I would rather die.

Where will a good life come from?

Will it come from my husband who has run away?

Will it come from my children who are suffering?

Where will the good life come from?’

Counsellor: ‘I told her we must go to the doctor.

She said she won't go if the doctor is a man. She thinks all men are soldiers.’

This young woman has just been gang-raped by armed men. A counsellor has brought her to Shamard’s office for help.

Shamard Shamalirwa: ‘I get some terrible cases. I have to get involved, as I don’t have many colleagues on the ground. We have a woman who has been raped only a day ago, yesterday, and I have three or four cases like that. I don’t know what to do. I am the only person from OCHA here. I can’t leave because the people here who are suffering and very vulnerable would have no one to plead their cause. It’s my duty to be here. I work to bring other partners here, I send reports, and I outline our needs. So they can provide the right help. This is the situation here, try to come and help.’

NGO workers try their best to help the displaced. But Minova is just one of hundreds of communities across Eastern Congo needing help, and with renewed fighting in the area, the aid agencies are desperately overstretched.

In January, two aid workers were attacked and held hostage for two months before being realsed. As in other areas of Congo, the security situation hinders the work of the aid agencies.

Meanwhile, Shamard has sent out another request for an urgent hospital transfer for Cecile. Her leg is getting worse.

Bavuna Sinavidikya: ‘I do not think my wife will get proper treatment here. Since she got here, she has not received adequate medication. If she remains here I fear for her life, and I am powerless to do anything.’

Dr Tarsis is running out of ideas.

Dr Tarsis: ‘I don’t know! At the moment we can’t look after her. We don’t have the right equipment.She must be taken somewhere where they can look after her properly.That’s the problem. And it must be done very soon. Given the state of her wound now, it must happen very soon. I would say she has one day to get there, to get the right care. If not, the worst might happen. If not, she’ll die here.’

Bahati Amisi is 17 years old. When he was fifteen rebels came and kidnapped him from school and he spent a year as a child soldier. He escaped and was reunited with his family but eight months ago they escaped to Minova, fleeing the same army he had fought for.

Every day he walks with his brother to the fields around Minova looking for work from local farmers.  If they are lucky to get work they will earn 60 cents, barely enough to buy food for one day.

Bahati and brother asking for work in the fields.

Bahati: We are looking for work.

Farmer: There is no work here. You should go try somewhere else.

Bahati: Where else can we find work?

Farmer: Please go ask someone else.

Bahati:  OK

Bahati and brother Interview

‘We have been here for eight months.

 We ran away from the war. Life here is very difficult, we struggle to get food. Most days we sleep hungry, because it is hard to get work here.

We are suffering because today we did not get work, that means we will sleep hungry today. Yesterday we also slept hungry.

You are lucky to get work here.

There has been a fire in the camp and Fifteen huts have been destroyed. Now the few things they managed to carry from home are lost as well.

Claude Bitwaiki Interview

‘We were cooking supper when the fire broke out. Our tents are too close together so the fire spread. Everything burnt; there was nothing we could save. Everything burnt; there was nothing we could save. they looted our things. All these things got burnt. This pot is the only thing that did not get burnt.’

Meanwhile Doctor Tarsis has come to see Shamard. The hospital transfer for Cecile still hasn’t arrived.  It is now nearly a week since she was shot and she is running out of time. They must put out a new call for help.

Doctor Tarsis: I’ve come to see you! I have a problem with Cecile.

Who’s going to come for these poor people?

Sharmard: Let me call my office in Goma, see if they have a solution.

We have an emergency. Doctor Tarsis wants to talk to you

Doctor Tarsis: I am worried. We have an IDP who’s been shot in the leg. It’s an open fracture. She was wounded a long time ago so we’re very worried about septicaemia. It’s really urgent that we get her evacuated.

Monday’s too far away.

A week after being lynched Magdaline has been discharged from the hospital and is returning home to the camp.

Ngirira Nerushoke: ‘I am an IDP. We ran here for our safety. but our safety has not improved. We still have no safety. My wife has been hanged and so on... 

I can't send my son to look for food. Now it is up to me to look for food and I am afraid. My wife is sick and we have no food, we will suffer a lot.

I don't feel happy, I feel bitter. She was fine, she was walking. Look at her now. There is no safety I feel bitter. Normally I would be crying but I have to hold my tears back. I am bitter.’

Help has come at last. A car has arrived to take Cecile to a hospital two hours away where they will be able to treat her.

Cecile Nyanzira made it to the hospital where doctors managed to save her leg. She is now walking on crutches.

Weeks after this film was made, rebel troops tried to occupy Minova they failed to capture the town but some of the displaced people who helped to make this film, were forced to flee yet again.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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