‘Naka-uwi na kami’: Thousands in Sulu finally return home

As of 21 November 2020, more than 1,125 forcibly displaced families (~5,625 individuals) have been able to return to their homes in Patikul, Sulu, after being forced to flee due to armed conflict.

Behind their masks, the forcibly displaced individuals in Patikul, Sulu, have the biggest smiles on their faces. For years, recurring armed encounters in Patikul have made it impossible for them to return home. This November, more than 5,000 individuals have finally been able to go back home.

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22 Nov 2020 – UNHCR Philippines, with the support of the Australian Government and in partnership with IRDT, distributed Core Relief Items consisting of tarpaulins, mats, solar lamps and mosquito nets to 211 returning families to Brgy. Kabbon Takas, Patikul, Sulu.

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22 Nov 2020 – This intervention is complementary to the implementation of the Balik Barangay Program for internally displaced persons (IDPs) spearheaded by the Provincial local government unit through the Municipal Task Force in Ending Local Armed Conflict (MTF-ELAC). It is composed of the Municipal Government Unit of Patikul, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, AFP/PNP, BFP, and other local partners.


Displacement at the time of a pandemic

Some of the families who have finally returned have been displaced for more than three years. According to Barangay Chairman Ahajuli Ahajani of Brgy. Kabbon Takas in Patikul, in the span of those years, some of the civilians were repeatedly displaced and in constant fear for their safety. “Tatlong beses na kaming nagbakwit…Nagpapasalamat kami nakabalik na ulit kami. Palagay ang loob ko na sa pagkakataong ito, dito na talaga kami.”

We have been forced to evacuate three times…We are thankful that finally, we are able to return. I am hopeful that this time, we will be able to remain home.

These families had to leave everything behind and find safety elsewhere – as armed conflict continued to worsen and put their lives on the line. Many fled to neighboring towns and found shelter with relatives, while others had to make do with makeshift dwellings. Access to basic services, health, water, and livelihood continues to be a problem. The threat of COVID-19 has only worsened the conditions faced by these forcibly displaced families and added to their fears.

With your help, UNHCR Philippines has been working closely with the Municipal local government unit of Patikul and Integrated Resource Development for Tri-People (IRDT) Philippines, providing life-saving assistance to 1,124 displaced families amid the pandemic.

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5 Nov 2020 – Returning families to Brgy. Maligay, Patikul, Sulu, received hygiene kits, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, solar lamps and mats through UNHCR Philippines with the support of the Australian Government and IRDT.

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12 October 2020 – UNHCR Philippines supported the Municipal Government of Patikul and RHU Patikul in rendering vital services and life-saving assistance to forcibly displaced families in Barangay Pansul, Patikul.

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7 September 2020 – UNHCR Philippines, with the support of the Australian Government and in partnership with IRDT, distributed hygiene kits and core relief items to 21 displaced families in Brgy. Buhanginan, Patikul, Sulu.

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17 August 2020 – UNHCR Philippines reached out to 125 families in Brgy. Kan-Ague, Patikul, Sulu with hygiene kits, which are critical in containing the spread of the pandemic. Thank you to our donors, IRDT, and the municipal local government unit of Patikul and its MDRRM Office for making this possible.

The return of these families was made possible through the “Balik Barangay Program”, a joint effort of the Provincial Government of Sulu, Municipal Government of Patikul, and in collaboration with other partners such as AFP, NCMF, BFP, MSSD, RHU, and IRDT. Aside from the core relief items given by UNHCR with the support of the Australian Government and in partnership with IRDT, families were also provided with food packs, medicine and vaccines, a handwashing facility, and materials for the repair of their damaged school building, and many other forms of assistance through different humanitarian groups.

The road to recovery and durable solutions

Finding a sustainable durable solution is a challenge, as the coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis continue to threaten safety putting women at great risks. Access to potable water remains a problem, and access to livelihood has been severely affected by the pandemic. Children are also unable to go to school, and virtual learning is difficult due to poor internet connectivity and absence of gadgets.

Despite the challenges, Arsilina Salim, 44, remains hopeful for the future, and is deeply grateful for all the help that she has received. Core relief items like mosquito nets and hygiene kits mean that her family is protected from health risks as they start over and rebuild their lives.  “Nagpapasalamat kami sa tulong ng LGU at ng UNHCR…Salamat at umabot ang tulong kahit malayo ang aming lugar,” she says.




Your kindness as a donor enables UNHCR to protect families who have been forced to flee. Your committed support means immediate emergency assistance for families like Arsilina’s when they are displaced from their homes due to conflict. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis, you are helping UNHCR work with government and other humanitarian partners to assist the most vulnerable families.

This season of giving, you can continue to help them rebuild their lives by giving them access to safe water, health facilities, and life-saving aid.