07 September 2015

PHL's Commitment to Refugees

Rohingya Refugees
A few months ago, the Philippine government said that it was willing to accommodate 3,000 Rohingyas seeking refuge from political persecution. The statement came in the heels of the country's commitment to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Philippines was also continuing a tradition of reaching out to victims of suffering all over the world.

Since May 2015, thousands of Rohingyas, Muslim migrants from Myanmar, have been going back and forth some Southeast Asian countries—particularly Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia—to flee from severe persecution, human trafficking and strong hostility in their homeland. Called as the "boat people," some Rohingyas were stuck at sea trying to find a country that would help them in their plight. Others starved while others died.

The cry for help initially fell on deaf ears, causing a humanitarian crisis that challenged the world's commitment to relieve the plight of displaced persons.

The Philippines, however, decided to open its arms like it did before, when other refugees sought safety from conflict and turmoil. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that the Philippines remains in solidarity with the United Nations (UN) in supporting the cause of displaced people by providing assistance and relief.

"We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention," he said.
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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) recently commended the Philippines for staying true to its commitment.

Nine Waves
"The Philippines has a strong humanitarian tradition of international protection in support of voiceless refugees," UNHCR Representative in the Philippines Bernard Kerblat said.

Coloma also recalled the time when the Philippines established a processing center that served around 18,000 Indochinese migrants in the 1970s during the Vietnam War.

But there have been humanitarian efforts for the refugees as early as the 1930s when more than a thousand Jews found safety in the archipelago during the Holocaust.

In 1949, the Philippines, under the administration of President Elpidio Quirino, accepted around 6,000 white Russians who were fleeing from the Communist rule in China.

There were also 200 Spaniards who fled to the Philippines to seek asylum from a civil war.

But even before the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was ratified, the government had already passed the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 where Section 47 (b) states that the President may "admit aliens who are refugees for religious, political and racial reasons" for "humanitarian reasons, and when not opposed to public interest."

According to UNHCR, the law was visionary as it was promulgated 11 years before the world agreed on the definitions of the concepts of "humanitarian" and "persecution."

Know more about the plight of refugees and how to help at www.unhcr.ph.