refugees

Ambassador Romualdez says ‘morally right’ to host Afghan refugees

Bea Cupin

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Ambassador Romualdez says ‘morally right’ to host Afghan refugees

JOSE MANUEL ROMUALDEZ. Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez speaks during a US Trade and Development Agency Offshore Wind Grant Signing at Ayala Triangle Gardens in Manila, Philippines, on August 6, 2022.

Andrew Harnik/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) The veteran diplomat belies talk he’s pushing for Manila to take in Afghan refugees waiting for special immigrant visas from the United States

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said hosting migrants in need is the “morally right” thing to do, as Manila reviews a request from Washington to take in Afghan refugees waiting for special visas to enter the US.

Romualdez, a cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said on Wednesday, June 21, that the US request did not include specifics, only that it was asking the Philippines to take in Afghan refugees who were waiting to finish the long and arduous special immigrant visa process.

According to Romualdez, it is Manila that will determine how many Afghan refugees it will take in.

“There’s a mutual respect, in my view, with the US and the Philippines. Especially now – they know that the Philippines is a sovereign nation, we have our own laws and we want to strengthen our positions in anything. It’s not fair for anyone to even think that the US is out there to push us to do this and that,” Romualdez told ANC’s Headstart.

Up to 60,000 individuals are waiting for special immigrant visas after the Taliban took over Afghanistan when US troops finally withdrew from the war-torn country. Those being negotiated to come to the Philippines temporarily, said Romualdez, were Afghans who worked with the US government and “whose life and families are in danger.”

Romualdez expects that the recommendation from the Department of Foreign Affairs, on whether to approve or reject the US request, would be with the Office of the President by mid-July.

While he denied talk that he was lobbying for Manila to grant the American request, Romualdez made a case for accepting it, citing the Philippines’ history in aiding refugees in need and the “goodwill” such acts create. For instance, the Philippines opened its doors to Jews escaping Nazi persecution in the thirties. Decades later, beginning in the seventies, the Philippines gave refuge to Vietnamese forced to flee because of war.

Romualdez also agreed with calls from lawmakers – including his cousin, the president’s sister Senator Imee Marcos – to emphasize security, should the Philippines say yes to the US. He suggested Philippine security officials be part of the vetting process, and for the Philippines to limit both the number of refugees it will take in, as well as the length of time they should to stay in the country.

Vice President Sara Duterte earlier expressed her opposition to the request, citing security concerns. Duterte made her position through an April 20 letter to the Anti-Terrorism Council. 

The US first lodged a request for Manila to temporarily host Afghan refugees in October 2022. The issue was “briefly raised” when Marcos met with US President Joe Biden at the White House in May 2023. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.