Press Release

UNHCR and UNICEF support Zamboanga City in pilot birth registration project for Sama Bajaus

06 December 2019

  • 200 undocumented Sama Bajaus, an IP community, receive birth certificates with help from UNHCR-UNICEF project on childhood statelessness


Indigenous people, local government officials and UNICEF and UNHCR staff pose for a group photo

Sama Bajau IP community members receive birth certificates through a project spearheaded by the Zamboanga City local government, with support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Present during the ceremonial distribution of 200 birth certificates to Sama Bajau people and families are Zamboanga City Major Beng Climaco (1st from left), UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov (5th from left), and UNHCR Philippines Representative Shinji Kubo (8th from left, back row). UNICEF Philippines/Jeoffrey Maitem

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – More than 200 Sama Bajaus were provided with birth certificates today, in a pilot birth registration project spearheaded by the Zamboanga City local government and supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The distribution is the culmination of a pilot birth registration project for Sama Bajaus. Due to their itinerant way of life and because of generations of nonregistration among families, the Sama Bajaus face documentation issues, which in turn lead to their being at risk of statelessness. It is thought that there are 10,000 Sama Bajaus living in Zamboanga alone, around 85% of them without birth certificates.

UNHCR and UNICEF are providing technical assistance to the project under the UNHCR-UNICEF Joint Strategy for Addressing Childhood Statelessness. The pilot registration initiative also supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is a significant advance towards leaving no one behind.

“The Philippines, a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, has identified the Sama Bajaus as a population at risk of statelessness. After a series of consultations with Sama Bajau communities, UNHCR, as a leading UN agency toward ending statelessness by 2024, arrived at a recommendation to conduct a birth registration to address their documentation issues,” said Shinji Kubo, UNHCR Representative to the Philippines. “A birth certificate will help the community assert their rights. Ensuring birth registration also supports our global initiatives to prevent statelessness. This pilot birth registration demonstrates the commitment of the Government of the Philippines toward achieving the SDGs, ‘leaving no one behind.’”

“Every child/human has the right to a name and identity.  Birth registration forms the basis of identity. It has much larger implications on children to have access to education, health care and social services. This is invaluable for the indigenous population and those at risk of stateless such as the Sama Bajau we have reached,” said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF Philippines Representative, “UNICEF is pleased to work with UNHCR in reaching the outlying communities facilitating access to birth registration that will have significant impact on their lives.” 

A pilot registration project, which commenced in October this year, seeks to register 1,500 people in the community under the leadership of the Department of Justice. This project, which is also in line with the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, is a concerted initiative involving the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Barangay Council of Kasanyangan, Zamboanga City.

By end-2019, the pilot activity aims to provide birth certificates to a total of 412 Sama Bajaus. The project aims to reach more communities in need of birth registration documents in 2020.

UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund

Goals we are supporting through this initiative