[OPINION] Is the Philippines ready for a refugee crisis?

Rogue S. Evangelio

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[OPINION] Is the Philippines ready for a refugee crisis?

Raffy de Guzman/Rappler

On June 20, National Refugee Day, government is reminded of the need to create a task force for a refugee crisis

June 20 is National Refugee Day in the Philippines through Proclamation No. 265 issued in 2023. It aims to create awareness of and recognition towards refugees. As the Philippines observes world refugee day, is it ready for a possible refugee crisis in the future? 

The Philippines has a long history of showing compassion by opening its doors to refugees in need of safe refuge.

This tradition began during the administration of President Manuel L. Quezon, when a Holocaust was occurring in Europe. He issued Proclamation No. 137, s. 1937, which stated that the Commonwealth Government would provide aid to refugees. President Elpidio Quirino welcomed White Russians and established a refugee resettlement camp on the island of Tubabao, Samar, in the Eastern Visayas region. President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. issued Executive Order No. 554, s. 1979, creating a Task Force on International Refugee Assistance and Administration. One year later, the Philippines Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) was established in Morong, Bataan.

This humanitarian effort of the Philippine government continues. The country became a transit site for North Korean refugees who were fleeing their country during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Former president Rodrigo Duterte previously gave a donation worth 100,000 Dollars to provide life-saving assistance to the Rohingyas who are in the Rakhine State.The current administration under President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has taken action by agreeing to a plan to grant a request from the United States to give certain Afghan nationals refuge in the country. 

Are we ready?

During the administration of the late former president Benigno Aquino III, its Department of Justice (DOJ) issued Circular No. 058 or the rules on “Establishing the Refugee and Stateless Status Determination Procedure.” Under the DOJs Refugee and Stateless Persons Protection Unit, it will ensure that refugees and stateless persons will be provided access to a facilitated, prompt, and efficient process application for the granting of a refugee or a stateless status.

Despite the enactment of this policy, the Philippines is still not ready for a possible refugee crisis. It still lacks a legal framework or a national policy when an actual refugee crisis happens. The country shall also know the consequences of accepting refugees and how to accommodate them. These include providing basic human needs such as food, clean water, shelter, medical assistance, education, etc. Lastly, the Philippines will have the responsibility of re-integrating refugees into the local communities if they will allow them to stay in the country. 

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What can the Philippines do to be prepared for a possible refugee crisis?

First, create a national task force for a refugee crisis. This is by assembling a team from various backgrounds and sectors, including refugee studies experts, national government agencies, civil society organizations, and law enforcement authorities. The created task force will be responsible for developing and implementing the various strategies that will address all possible scenarios when a refugee crisis takes place.  These include border patrol, provision of immediate basic assistance, processing of possible re-integration & and resettlement, and etc. 

Second, the Philippines Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) should be revived. The PRPC is an important institution that helps accommodate and resettle refugees. If there is a refugee crisis in the future, the location of the PRPC will be different from where it was originally. This will depend on the entry point or the area in which the refugees entered the country. 

Third, the Philippines shall collaborate and partner with different international organizations and states in responding to a possible refugee crisis. One of the main international organizations that the country can tap is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Other international organizations including International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and other organizations in relations to refugees. The Philippines shall also coordinate with other states in which these refugees can be re-settled. 

Huge task

There are various refugee crisis happening in different parts of the world. The continuous movement of Palestinian refugees due to the continuing expansion of Israel. Political and economic instability that has led to displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis within the Southeast Asia region. This is just one of the many examples of the refugee crisis in the world.  

The Philippines still has a huge task in terms of preparation for an impending refugee crisis.

It shall position itself as a country whose readiness for such humanitarian crisis is commendable. It shall maintain its image as a model for refugee protection within the Southeast Asian region. However, a refugee crisis can’t be easily addressed by the Philippines alone but through the collective efforts of various actors. –

Rogue S. Evangelio is a graduate student at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, specializing in Foreign Relations. Her research interests include refugee studies and Philippine Foreign Relations.  

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