Legarda: PH has Obligation to Protect Refugees

May 23, 2015

Senator Loren Legarda today welcomed the announcement by the Philippine government that it is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance and shelter to people involuntarily displaced by conflicts from their countries, stressing that the nation has the duty to do so.


“This is consistent with the obligation of the country to assume obligations and duties under international law to assist and protect refugees,” said Legarda.


The Senator explained that the Philippines, as signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, is obliged to recognize that refugees have a lawful right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum regardless of how they arrive, subject to procedures it may adopt.


“Refugees such as the Rohingya Muslims have been compelled by circumstances to seek refuge in places or countries other than their own. For many of them, fleeing their mother countries is not a matter of choice, but the only option left for them in the face of real threats to their life and security,” said Legarda.


She added that countries that refuse to give shelter to the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar may be unknowingly enabling a climate of continued violence against them.


“Continued exposure by these refugees to the harsh conditions of the seas is no less cruel than the conditions they are trying to escape from. They need to be given shelter and humanitarian assistance as they seek shelter elsewhere not for economic advantage, but in search of safety in the face of persecution in their home country,” Legarda said.


She also urged cooperation among ASEAN member states in resolving the issue of Rohingya refugees and warned that these people could be subjected to human trafficking.


“These refugees are in great danger of being victimized by human traffickers, considering their vulnerable state. In helping the Rohingya people, we also strengthen our resolve to prevent trafficking in persons,” said Legarda, principal author of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.


It may be recalled that in 2012, the Philippines became the first country in Asia Pacific to set up a process to protect refugees and stateless persons.  This came barely a year after the Philippines ratified the 1954 Convention on Stateless Persons.


Moreover, at the height of the exodus of Vietnamese people in the 1970s, the Philippines hosted about 400,000 Vietnamese refugees in settlement camps. Some were relocated to other countries, some returned to their country when the conditions improved, and others stayed in the Philippines and became productive members of their adopted communities.