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IOM works to prevent trafficking from typhoon-affected areas in the Philippines

( IOM) - With more and more people trying to leave areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, IOM, in coordination with the Philippine Government and its partners, has been screening evacuees to protect against potential human trafficking, while also identifying vulnerabilities of departing families.  

By some estimates up to 5,000 people a day are fleeing disaster-stricken Leyte, Samar and other affected areas, bound for cities like Cebu and the capital Manila.

IOM has also flagged up urgent vulnerabilities among those living in evacuation sites. 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.

Across a broad swathe of the Visayas region of the central Philippines, 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 majority of those being air-lifted out of Tacloban are flying for the first time in their lives. IOM is assisting through its Migration Outflow Desk, established on Sunday 17th November at Tacloban's badly damaged airport.

IOM works with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in collaboration with UNHCR and the Salvation Army to screen the evacuees.

Over 1,000 people have passed through the Migrant Outflow Desk from Tacloban city alone in the past five days. Some 80 per cent are headed to Manila, where they have family or friends.

"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," said Tya Maskun, head of IOM's Tacloban office. "We plan to replicate the system across the affected area as quickly as possible, as there is clearly a danger of individuals being trafficked."

Others are making their way to Manila by boat and by road. 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. But others are not so fortunate and have been staying in a growing tent camp near Manila's Jesus Villamor Air Base. Almost half of those leaving screened by IOM have no means of financial support.

The Visayas is an area known for human trafficking and the authorities are concerned that the enormous disruption to daily life caused by the typhoon of 8th November may be exploited for criminal purposes, in particular child trafficking.

The initial wave of life-saving relief ensured that survivors have been given shelter, food, water and medical treatment. A cleanup of Tacloban is also in full swing and most streets have been cleared of debris, although bodies are also being discovered among the rubble every day.

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.

The focus is now turning to 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. A challenge is identifying land close enough to jobs and livelihoods in which to build new communities in typhoon-proof dwellings.

Having identified some critical gaps IOM is now focused on providing more life-saving humanitarian assistance at evacuation sites to improve living conditions through better basic health, sanitation, protection and self-governance.

IOM also intends to scale up its tracking of evacuees fleeing affected areas; identifying viable and safe land for resettlement sites and ensuring emergency preparedness in case of new weather-related disasters.