Press Release
September 10, 2021

De Lima lauds PH move to welcome Afghan refugees, pushes for swift passage of bill protecting refugees and stateless persons

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima lauded Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. for spearheading efforts to welcome Afghan refugees to the Philippines following the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.

De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said she hopes the legislative chamber will now give priority to her Proposed Senate Bill (SB) No. 379 seeking to promote and protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons in the country.

"I commend Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in spearheading the efforts to accept Afghan nationals who are seeking asylum after the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan. This gesture is a breath of fresh air amid the current depressing state of the world, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," she said.

"It's not surprising to me that this notable act of humanity is made while Locsin is at the helm of DFA. He's got a heart for refugees and humanitarian causes. Welcoming these fleeing Afghan refugees into the country will not only save their lives, but also of their future and culture, including their beliefs that the Taliban seeks to destroy," she added.

Locsin, on Twitter, confirmed that the Philippines started taking in Afghan refugees on Sept. 8. "We stay steady where others waver: tonight we welcome Afghan nationals including women & kids seeking refuge. Our doors are open to those fleeing conflict, persecution, sexual abuse and death," he said.

Locsin, however, declined to give further information to ensure the refugees' "safety and privacy," saying that "the matter is closed."

"It is hard to imagine any other stance being taken in the face of such a humanitarian crisis, not to mention the fact that 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," noted Senator De Lima. "It is, in no way, an easy situation for anyone, especially the current pandemic situation the world is facing. But it is during difficult situations that the true strength and commitment of a government to doing what is right that is tested."

In response to the current situation, De Lima urged her colleagues in the Senate to take notice and support the passing of her proposed Senate Bill No. 379, otherwise known as the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Act.

Under SB No. 379, which De Lima first filed during the 17th Congress as SB No. 1854, she proposed the creation of the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Board (Protection Board) as the central authority to determine the status of refugees and stateless persons and their eligibility for protection.

De Lima also sought to strengthen the government's cooperation and coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Commission on Human Rights and other relevant institutions and agencies.

"Ang mga refugees ay biktima ng panggigipit, pang-aabuso at pagmamalupit sa kanilang bansa," she stressed.

"Sa ibang dako ng mundo, milyon-milyon pa rin ang naiipit sa deka-dekaang hidwaan, binabangungot ng takot at dahas; marami pa rin ang mga magulang na ang tanging inaasam lang ay mailayo at mailigtas ang mga anak mula sa kaguluhan, at may mga batang ni hindi pa nakatutuntong sa paaralan, walang masilungan at matuluyang tahanan," she added.

In welcoming refugees, the lady Senator from Bicol said Filipinos need to stay true to their nature as a warm and hospital people.

"Ipakita po natin ang totoo at mabuting katangian ng mga lahing Pilipino—ang pusong mapagmalasakit at bukas-palad na pagtulong sa kapwa. We also have to do our share as a responsible member of a global community who needs to lean into each other in times of hardships and difficulty," she said.

Back in May 2015, De Lima proposed that the Philippines, along with fellow ASEAN member-states, should send rescue ships to help the Rohingya refugees or "boat people" still stranded in the seas, and save their lives.

She issued a statement opposing the initially reported plans to turn away refugees who cannot present travel documents.

She clarified that, while the lack of travel documents would normally warrant exclusion proceedings, "asylum seekers cannot always be expected to obtain 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 pointed out that, despite lack of passports "a process is in place" to grant "genuine asylum seekers" the protection of the Philippine government, referring to the Department of Justice's Department Circular No. 058, issued in October 2012, titled "Establishing the Refugee and Stateless Status Determination Procedure," which was an achievement hailed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in November 2012 as making the Philippines "the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a procedure to protect both refugees and stateless people."

De Lima then had occasion to point out that the Philippines has a strong tradition of aiding and welcoming refugees and asylum seekers dating even before the 1954 Convention. She cited the admission of 1,500 Jewish refugees who had been denied asylum in other countries during World War II, and up to 2,700 Vietnamese boat people also sought refuge in Philippines in the 1970s. "The Philippines is willing to share to other Southeast Asian countries its experience in the management of asylum seekers," De Lima said.

De Lima's statements were recognized by then UNHCR Representative in the Philippines, Bernard Kerblat, and the International Organization for Migration in the Philippines (IOM).

As Senator, she also supported a draft resolution submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) expressing serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis affecting the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

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