Saturday, 23 May 2015

Philippines making plans to accommodate 3,000 Rohingya migrants

Source channelnewsasia, 22 May

The Philippines has said it is ready to help in solving the issue of Rohingya refugees stranded on ships in the region, making plans with UNHCR to accommodate about 3,000 migrants. 

Rohingya men from Myanmar prepare for Friday prayers at a confinement area for migrants at Bayeun, Aceh province on May 22, 2015 after more than 400 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rescued by Indonesian fishermen on May 20. (Photo: AFP/ROMEO GACAD)

MANILA: The Philippines government has held a series of high level meetings with UNHCR to formalise plans to temporarily house the Rohingya refugees. 

Earlier this week, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the government is open to sheltering up to 3,000 refugees. Some analysts say such preparation is key for the plan to be successful. 

"They are already scouting around for several venues, but the venue is the least of our concern," said Clarita Campos, political science professor, University of the Philippines. "It's more important to figure out the medical needs of the migrants, as well as other health and food requirements first.

"Then later on, we need to think about education and job requirements. All of this has to be planned out and planned well."

While it is unlikely the boats carrying the refugees will reach Philippine shores, the government has said they are looking forward to being part of the solution to this regional humanitarian crisis.

The Philippines will present its position at the May 29 meeting in Bangkok which will bring together more than a dozen governments from Southeast Asia and beyond.

The UNHCR's Philippines representative said the country has the necessary legislative framework to take in the refugees, such as the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940.

"The Philippines has experience dealing with refugee status to determine and to undertake individual interviews with people to understand the conditions which have pushed them into this ordeal - and to determine whether they are in need of international protection or not," said Bernard Kerblat, Philippine Representative, UNHCR.

The Philippines has had a long history of helping refugees, including persecuted Jews during World War II, Vietnamese boat people during the Vietnam War and the Chinese during the rise of communism and their civil war period.

But officials say proper measures also have to be in place to help classify these Rohingya migrants.

"They have to be able to establish their status," said Banuar Falcon, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. "Some process has to be made available to them. There are reports that the migrants are a mix of members belonging to a persecuted community and other economic refugees seeking greener pastures."

A Philippine Refugee Processing Center was set up in Bataan in the Central Luzon area where previous refugees stayed before being re-settled elsewhere.  That has since fallen into disuse due to lack of funding.  But the government also said it was mindful of resource limitations while it is still implementing a rehabilitation and reconstruction program for areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

- CNA/rw

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