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How PH will handle Rohingya boat people

(Photo: AFP)

May 19, 2015

MANILA - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reiterated the government will not send back to sea the Rohingya boat people, but stressed “procedures” must be followed so that the country’s own interests will not be stepped on.

In an interview with ANC, DFA Spokesman Charles Jose said: “We should also have appropriate procedures to follow to ensure that we also protect our own interests. Our economic and security interests should also be taken into account.”

Both Malacanang and the Department of Justice denied yesterday a Philippine Daily Inquirer report that claimed the government will turn away the asylum seekers in case they reach Philippine shores.

“The Philippines, as a state party to relevant instruments, such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, concretely manifested its solidarity with the United Nations in providing succor and relief to persons involuntarily displaced from their homelands as a consequence of political conflict. We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, for her part, said asylum seekers should not be considered as migrants without official documents and are subject to deportation.

"Asylum seekers cannot always be expected to prepare travel documents particularly where the agent of persecution is the State. Hence, their situation deserves to be treated and examined in a different context," she said.

Jose said there are two types of refugees: the political refugees who are politically persecuted in their states, and the economic migrants who can’t survive in their homeland because of lack of economic opportunities.

Jose said the Philippines has signed the UN convention and it is committed to honoring this.

Members of the Rohingya, a Burmese minority group, continue to be stranded at sea amid dwindling water and food supplies. The Rohingya had fled persecution early this year, but were turned away when they reached Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

This prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to urge Southeast Asian leaders to "uphold the obligation of rescue at sea."

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