Friday, May 22, 2015

UNHCR, IOM laud Philippines' willingness to help refugees

From the Website of PIA

UNHCR, IOM laud Philippines' willingness to help refugees

MANILA, May 22 -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have thanked the Philippine government for its willingness to support migrants and refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar currently stranded in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

“We welcome (Justice) Secretary de Lima’s declaration and are reassured that the right to asylum will be upheld. The Philippines has a strong humanitarian tradition of international protection in support of voiceless refugees. UNHCR is asking countries in Southeast Asia to approach this as a regional issue with real human consequences. It has been engaging governments in the region on the growing problem of irregular maritime movements," UNHCR Representative in the Philippines, Bernard Kerblat, said.

During her meeting with Kerblat on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima proposed that the Philippines and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) send ships to rescue the boat people.

The IOM’s Chief of Mission in the Philippines, Marco Boasso, also commended the Philippines, saying, "It is very clear that these people are in need of humanitarian assistance from the international community and governments in the region. IOM is ready to support the Government of the Philippines and our humanitarian partners in finding sustainable solutions for this group."

The heads of the UNHCR and IOM, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Migration and Development have issued a joint statement calling on governments in the Southeast Asian region and the international community to help the stranded migrants.

Meanwhile, Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. on Thursday reaffirmed the Philippine government’s commitment to provide humanitarian succor and relief as a signatory to the UN conventions relating to refugees and stateless persons.

“We are mindful that we are constrained by resource limitations, especially considering that we are still in the midst of implementing a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction program for areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda,” Coloma said.

He said the Philippines’ commitment was concretely demonstrated through its cooperation with the UN in establishing the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan in 1980, which operated until the mid-1990’s.

The Center, with funding from the UNHCR and support from various international aid agencies, assisted refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in seeking admission to resettlement nations such as the United States, Canada, Norway and France.

“We are in continuing dialogue with the local office of the UNHCR on how the Philippines may be able to meaningfully fulfill its commitment to the attainment of the UN’s humanitarian objectives,” Coloma said.

The Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Thousands of migrants and refugees are currently stranded on smugglers’ boats in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca. Some are being held captive by smugglers demanding ransoms from their families, while others were left by their crews with little food and water following Thailand's crackdown on human trafficking. (PCOO/PND (jm) - See more at:

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