In a favorable response to a call from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said some 3.5 million people have been displaced in Afghanistan, the Philippines accommodated a group of Afghans fleeing the recent takeover of the Taliban rebels.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed the arrival of the first group of Afghan refugees in the Philippines but declined to reveal a headcount for the safety and privacy of the refugees.
On the evening of the refugees’ arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Locsin declared: “We stay steady where others (countries) waver: Tonight, we welcome Afghan nationals including women and kids seeking refuge.”
The UNHCR has been sounding a call to neighboring countries to keep their borders open to those fleeing Afghanistan.
According to the UN refugee agency, around 3.5 million people were displaced within the country and many of those wishing to cross into countries such as Pakistan or Iran may not have the documents they need.
Locsin thanked Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III and brother Paul Dominguez for bringing the matter to the attention of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Justice.
“Our doors are open to those fleeing conflict, persecution, sexual abuse and death. Thank you, Sonny and Paul Dominguez, Vince Dizon for bringing the matter of the refugees to DFA & DOJ attention,” Locsin tweeted.
Locsin said no further information would be provided to the public for the refugees’ safety and privacy. “The matter is closed. We’re not interested in publicity or thanks. This is done so one can look at himself in the mirror. Period,” he added.
Locsin earlier said the Philippines would only accept refugees on a government-to-government basis and would not entertain any request for asylum coming from non-government organizations or any other non-state parties.
“I predict that refugees will be the next lucrative order of business, having plenty of cash in hand or in foreign bank accounts. The temptation will be irresistible to help them and help oneself to them. That will never happen under this administration or in my watch,” Locsin said.
Malacañang earlier said the Philippines was willing to accept asylum seekers from Afghanistan, which has been taken over by Islamist Taliban with known ties to the terrorist group Al Quaeda and ISIS.
At the Palace, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines had admitted people who fled from their homelands to avoid persecution, so the country could accept Afghan refugees.
Roque cited the way the Philippines welcomed Jews during World War II and when a Russian czar was ousted from power.
“Since time immemorial, the Philippines has had jurisprudence, even before the Convention of Refugees, welcoming asylum seekers. As stated by the Supreme Court, the Philippines will not hesitate to admit individuals fleeing from their homelands because of fear of persecution,” Roque said during a press briefing.
“All those who need help because they are being persecuted in their country, they have a place here in the Philippines,” he said.
Together with the Afghan refugees, 32 Filipinos who were among 500 staff and personnel of the US embassy in Afghanistan arrived at the airport after they were airlifted from Kabul through the help of a Manila-based migrant association.
Emmanuel Geslani of Migrante International said the Filipinos were brought by Chinook helicopters to the Kabul Airport, where they boarded a cargo plane that flew them to the US Airbase in Doha, Qatar. The Filipino OFWs were then flown to Manila as part of the US government repatriation effort.