Profiling of Internal Displacement in Basilan, Sulu & Tawi-Tawi, Philippines: Key Findings & Recommendations - JIPS - Joint IDP Profiling Service

Profiling of Internal Displacement in Basilan, Sulu & Tawi-Tawi, Philippines: Key Findings & Recommendations

Cover of the profiling report on internal displacement in the BaSulTa provinces, BARMM region (Philippines, July 2021).

Go to the full report to read the detailed analysis, insights and recommendations.

Internal displacement is typically thought of as people and families being forced miles far away from their places of origin, compelled to rethink their lives in the places of refuge. However, in some instances, people are displaced within the same province. In the case of Philippines’ southern Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), many are even displaced within their own municipality or barangay (neighbourhoods within municipalities), not too far from their home. The just-launched profiling report brings attention to the situation of internally displaced persons in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi of the BARMM (BaSulTa provinces). It contributes to the broader understanding that regardless of the distance migrated, forced displacement causes or increases vulnerabilities, often resulting in the adoption of negative coping mechanisms and affecting living conditions and pre-existing social dynamics in hosting communities.

The profiling exercise also sheds light on a region that, despite the impacts of the longstanding conflict, has been little considered in humanitarian and development interventions. Contributing factors include the remoteness of the island provinces, but also the closeness to Mindanao, which has been attracting most of the attention and resources due to deep-rooted tensions.

In addition to internal displacement, the profiling exercise also looked at the Sama Bajau, a population group living on Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, and known to be at risk of statelessness. The results and recommendations from this analysis are captured in a separate report. The profiling exercise was coordinated by the Profiling Working Group led by UNHCR Philippines, the Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) and the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG) of the BARMM region. JIPS provided technical support throughout the process, including methodology design, stakeholder engagement, tools development, analysis, reporting and dissemination.


Why conduct a profiling in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi?

Bearing a history of ethno-religious diversity and conflict, exacerbated by a colonial influence, the southern region of Mindanao and the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa provinces) have long sought institutional recognition of their identity in the Philippines. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was established in 2019, following a peace agreement between the opposing parties. However, the situation remains fragile with an ongoing conflict due to the presence of armed groups and continued violence recognised as the major cause of internal displacement, and is aggravated by recurring natural disasters such as typhoons and storm surges.


Map of BaSulTa southern provinces

Map of BaSulTa southern provinces. © UNHCR


Security risks, limited access to the islands and insufficient funds have also impeded governmental and international humanitarian efforts in the delivery of aid to IDPs in the BaSulTa provinces. Moreover, despite the existence of national laws and policies stipulating the protection and assistance to IDPs, so far there has not been an in-depth understanding of the displacement situation and possible durable solutions in the island provinces due to the lack of comprehensive and agreed-upon data.

Against this background, UNHCR together with the Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) and the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG) of the BARMM initiated a consultative process involving stakeholders from the provincial, municipal and barangay local government units, UN agencies, civil society organisations, academia, security sectors and IDP leaders to discuss the need for, and ultimately commitment to, a collaborative profiling exercise. During our mission in October 2019, the collaborative platform was established and the exercise initiated. Although the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak impacted the timeline of the whole process, the report was successfully finalised in February 2021.

JIPS’ technical support was made possible thanks to the generous support of the American people through contributions from the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Danish Development Cooperation Agency (DANIDA).


Objectives and methodology

The overall purpose of the profiling was to obtain reliable and comprehensive evidence on the situation of the IDPs in the BaSulTa provinces. The exercise also investigated patterns and causes of displacement, as well as the purpose, frequency and obstacles for IDPs to visit the places of habitual residence. The results feed into the government’s and the humanitarian agencies’ planning and design of evidence-based responses tailored to the needs of the displacement-affected population groups. The findings of the profiling also serve as a basis for advocacy efforts to mitigate protection risks, raise awareness of the impacts of displacement, and promote further assistance.

Overview of the profiling process for the 2019-2021 exercise in the BaSulTa provinces, BARMM region (Philippines).

The process of the BaSulTa profiling exercise, starting with the consultative process and culminating in the joint profiling report launched in July 2021.

The Profiling Working Group was in charge of the coordination of the exercise and worked collaboratively to manage and implement the exercise, including by providing sectoral expertise at key steps of the process. The below infographic gives an overview of the key steps in the profiling process. The profiling exercise focused on two population groups:

  • IDPs living with hosts (relatives, friends or by renting a house – also called “home-based”), and
  • IDPs living in temporary shelters (evacuation centers).

A mixed-methods approach was used, with both a quantitative and a qualitative component: a household-level survey was conducted with a sample of each of the target population groups per province. The final sample counted 1,653 families (7,692 individuals). The questionnaire used as a basis the Interagency Durable Solutions Indicator Library, and was developed jointly with the PWG and in consultation with the sectoral experts in order to identify locally relevant questions.

No reliable baseline data were available, and while IDP lists could be obtained for the different provinces, they were not all up-to-date. To mitigate these challenges, the sampling approach relied on a full-count/snowballing strategy (for an explanation see JIPS’ Sampling Guide for Displacement Situations, pg.19).

The qualitative data collection consisted of focus group discussions with IDPs and a validation survey with the PWG, to ground-truth the preliminary results from the household survey with members of the displaced communities and representatives of the local government units in each of the provinces.


Key findings

A UNHCR field officer interviews an IDP



IDPs in Basilan

  • 63% of the IDPs surveyed in Basilan were displaced most recently in 2017 or 2019 due to crime and violence, or armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Abu Sayyaf Group;
  • All IDPs were displaced to areas within the same municipality as their place of habitual residence and in most cases even within the same barangay;
  • Ongoing conflict was the main reason why people have not been able to visit or return to their place of habitual residence;
  • The vast majority of families surveyed wanted to return to their place of habitual residence;
  • People would require information about security as well as the provision of basic services in order to return.


IDPs in Sulu

  • 93% of home-based families and 90% of temporary shelter families surveyed in Sulu were displaced most recently in 2017 or 2019 due to armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Abu Sayyaf Group;
  • 5% and 10% were displaced due to crime and violence respectively;
  • Most IDPs have experienced repeated displacements in the past three years, with many displaced to neighbouring barangays several times in the same year due to intensified conflict;
  • About half of the displaced families have not been able to visit their place of habitual residence since their displacement, while those who have visited have only been able to do so rarely;
  • All families surveyed expressed a desire to stay in their municipality of origin. In 2020, more than 400 displaced families returned to their place of habitual residence. However, at least 1,078 families remained displaced;
  • The security situation and government restrictions were the main obstacles for the IDPs wishing to visit or return to their places of habitual residence;
  • Respondents also reported feeling more safe in their place of habitual residence even in cases where their houses had been destroyed with the risk of future insecurity and potential displacement.


IDPs in Tawi-Tawi

  • Nearly all IDPs surveyed in Tawi-Tawi were displaced most recently in 2019 due to Typhoon Marilyn and the associated storm surge;
  • All IDPs were displaced to areas within the same municipality as their place of habitual residence;
  • All houses in the place of habitual residence were totally destroyed reflecting the typically weak housing structures;
  • Financial resources represent the main barrier for IDPs to return and rebuild their houses;
  • The vast majority of displaced families reported that they intended to return to their place of habitual residence in the future. A key reason for this was to access the sea, which represents their main source of food and livelihoods. On their return, IDPs would require improved construction materials and designs to reduce the risk of future disasters


Key recommendations

Six recommendations were developed and submitted to the BARMM Government in support of displacement-affected communities:

  1. The Contingency Plan for Humanitarian Response to Conflict and Natural Disasters in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi needs to be revised. Its first version, edited in 2012, is not efficient enough to cope with the growing needs with regard to access to basic services such as health, education, food and clean water of displaced households, although these have not changed. The updated contingency plan should be structured on emergency preparedness to timely deliver aid to affected populations;
  2. Exempt IDPs and other impoverished families from fees for birth registration and documentation, but maintain an institutional focus on the dissemination and information campaigns over the importance of documentation in order to access basic services and to ensure protection against arrest or detention. Mobile booths can be set up for this purpose, as well as engaging local media and community/ religious leaders;
  3. Continue to build the capacity of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippines National Police force (PNP) on International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian assistance in order to ensure protection and participation of IDPs throughout the process. International humanitarian actors can contribute to training sessions on diversity and cultural sensitivity;
  4. Improve access to livelihoods and education in order to strengthen the resilience of displaced families in affected areas. Financial support should be established for displaced children. Also, children of deceased combatants should be addressed first in order to combat radicalisation and minimize recruitment within armed groups;
  5. Improve access to health, WASH and food services, including vaccinations, free transportation to medical services or the formation of mobile health teams to deliver healthcare to evacuation centres – which should also improved to match Sphere standards;
  6. Improve the access to documentation related to housing, land and property (HLP) – without discarding the possibility for the BARMM government to reconstruct heavily affected areas and provide free legal advice regarding HLP issues to prevent future community litigations.


Sama Bajau People: Key Profiling Results on Persons at Risk of Statelessness

Go to the full report to read the detailed profiling results on the Sama Bajau.

The collaborative profiling exercise implemented in the BaSulTa provinces also looked at the Sama Bajau population in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. They are one of the State-identified populations at risk of statelessness in the Philippines, due to their itinerant lifestyle and generations of non-registration of birth.

The findings in Tawi-Tawi indicate that 85% of the surveyed home-based displaced families and 86% of the families in temporary shelters belonged to the Sama Bajau ethnolinguistic group.

Displacement-affected families from the Sama Bajau were found to be specifically exposed to discrimination, for instance finding only low-paid irregular or seasonal work with fishing being their traditional source of income. Their children were found to be targets of bullying in schools, which leads to a lower attendance rate as compared to other population groups.

The dedicated profiling report provides baseline information for stakeholders and duty bearers to craft policies and interventions. It also informs advocacy initiatives to mitigate protection risks and raise awareness on the impact of statelessness for the Sama Bajaus residing in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

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