MORE than 100,000 children have fled the fighting between militants aligned to Islamic State (IS), and government forces, in the southern Philippines.
The charity World Vision is providing psychological first aid to children who have fled with their families to evacuation centres.
Violence broke out in Marawi, the capital city on the southern island of Mindanao, three weeks ago. Militants set fire to churches as they entered the city, and raised the black IS flag. They stormed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora, and abducted a priest, the Revd Teresito Suganob, and 13 worshippers (News, 2 June).
Fr Suganob later appeared in a video released by the militants, urging the Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, to withdraw the military from Marawi.
The Catholic News Agency Fides said that, since the video, nothing had been heard from the hostages. It quoted the Bishop of Marawi, the Rt Revd Edwin de la Peña, who said: “Fighting still continues in Marawi, and we fear for the hostages. We have no news about their condition: they were kidnapped two weeks ago, they may need food, water, and medicines, and they are surely exhausted. We pray for them.”
Special Operations Forces from the United States are now assisting the Philippine government in its fight against the militants.
Many civilians were trapped in Marawi for days, under constant attack, before they managed to escape. Up to 2000 civilians are thought to be still in the city, which is under siege from security forces.
World Vision’s officer on the ground in the Philippines, Florence Joy Maluyo, said that it was supporting 2000 displaced families with emergency kits. “There is also a growing concern among children displaced by the armed conflict. Reports say that at least 100,000 children have been affected, of which, 22,000 school-aged children’s education have been disrupted.”
World Vision is working with the Filipino Department of Education to open temporary learning spaces at ten locations in Iligan City, in the northern Mindanaon region, where many of Marawi’s displaced population have fled. About 300 people have so far died in the fighting.