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Japan grants US$5.5M aid to improve access to birth registration of marginalized populations in BARMM

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The Government of Japan has approved a grant aid of ¥858,000,000 (approximately US$5.5 million) to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for a 30-month initiative to improve access to birth registration services of marginalized populations in the Philippines’ Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

While the national birth registration rate in the Philippines is at 96.6%, there remains a significant disparity with BARMM at 77%. In addition, all provinces in the region are at the bottom ten of the lowest proportion of registered births in the country.

These gaps in birth registration increase the risk of statelessness, as the absence of a birth certificate makes it difficult to prove one’s legal identity. This also causes challenges in terms of access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement. Without access to these rights, they can face a lifetime of obstacles.

In response, UNHCR has provided support to the Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) of the Bangsamoro Government through the birth registration of the itinerant seafaring Sama Bajau people and unregistered children in the context of displacement due to armed conflict in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) since 2021. However, the initiative continued to face numerous challenges in registering the birth of the target populations, including the lack of understanding on the importance of birth registration, difficulties in accessing the target communities, and erroneous data entries.

The funding from the Japanese Government will allow UNHCR and its partners to further enhance its birth registration efforts and significantly improve the resilience of marginalized populations in the Bangsamoro region, namely the Sama Bajaus and unregistered children in the context of forced displacement due to armed conflict and their families. In addition, the project also intends to cover the decommissioned combatants and their families in line with the normalization process of the Philippine Government.

The funding aims to expand the birth registration initiative covering 50 municipalities in Maguindanao Del Sur, Maguindanao Del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi from 2024 to 2027, and is seen to benefit some 30,000 individuals within the implementation period. Moreover, it is expected that the initiative will benefit 800,000 individuals or 80,000 families in the next 10 years.

Priority municipalities will receive support through digitization and capacity building of local governments and the Local Civil Registrars (LCRs) as well as advocacy activities that will highlight the importance of birth registration and sustainability of the initiative. Furthermore, UNHCR and its partners aim to strengthen the protection space for Sama Bajaus and unregistered children within the context of forcible displacement due to armed conflict and complement the normalization efforts of the Philippine Government through birth registration of decommissioned combatants and their families.

Honorable Endo Kazuya, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Republic of the Philippines signed and exchanged notes for the grant aid with UNHCR Head of National Office Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo.

“We are hopeful that this initiative will strengthen linkages between local government units and these marginalized sectors and bring the latter within reach of services and other forms of assistance offered by the Government and other relevant stakeholders,” Ambassador Kazuya emphasized in his message during the event.

On the part of UNHCR, Valdeavilla-Gallardo shared that UNHCR is pleased to be working with the Japanese Government to ensure that marginalized populations in the Bangsamoro region have access to birth registration.

“The efforts to be launched through this funding is vital to achieving SDG 16.9 on providing legal identity for all, the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind, and the Philippines’ National Action Plan (NAP) to End Statelessness,” she said.

To witness this momentous event, Senior Undersecretary Isidro Purisima of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), State Counsel Paulito de Jesus, Assistant Head of the Department of Justice – Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit, of the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ), and Minister Raissa Jajurie of the Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) of BARMM were also present and expressed the agencies’ continued support and commitment to addressing statelessness in the country.

“The Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, Secretary Carlito Galvez, sends his support on behalf of the OPAPRU. We also wish to extend our appreciation to Japan’s unwavering involvement on peace and development in BARMM and Mindanao,” said Senior Undersecretary Purisima.

Also expressing its support, Chief State Counsel Dennis Arvin Chan of the Department of Justice Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (DOJ-RSPPU) emphasized that the initiative would also “contribute to the Philippines’ National Action Plan to End Statelessness and enable the beneficiaries of the project to not only gain access to essential services from the government but also allow them to access and exercise their basic rights.”

“With the inclusion of 50 municipalities in BARMM, we are optimistic that the birth registration project, in partnership with UNHCR and the Japanese Government, will usher in opportunities for the Bangsamoro people such as greater access to government services hence facilitating change and development in the area,” said Minister Jajurie.

UNHCR is working to end statelessness around the world. Through a series of resolutions beginning in 1994, the UN General Assembly gave UNHCR the mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness around the world, as well as to protect the rights of stateless people. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the key international conventions addressing statelessness. In 2022 the Philippines became the 78th country to accede to the 1961 Convention and remains the first and only country in the region to have adopted the 1954 Convention.

ABOUT UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We lead international action to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. We deliver life-saving assistance, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place called home where they can build a better future. We also work with States to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. We work in over 130 countries, using our expertise to protect and care for millions.

In the Philippines, UNHCR has maintained a presence for over 40 years, working on three pillars: providing durable solutions to refugees, ending and reducing statelessness, and empowering displaced families.

Specifically, UNHCR works with the Government of the Philippines to address the situation of stateless people and populations at risk of statelessness by providing technical assistance and supporting the implementation of the State’s National Action Plan to End Statelessness.

Through a series of inter-agency roundtable discussions conducted between 2010-2011, the State has identified populations considered to be at risk of statelessness namely: unregistered children in the context of displacement due to armed conflict, foundlings, children of Filipino descent in migratory settings, persons of Indonesian descent (PID), and the Sama Bajaus. In 2021, the Persons of Japanese Descent (PJD) was added to the list.

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