Should we host Afghan refugees? | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

Should we host Afghan refugees?

The Philippines is processing a request made in October by the United States to temporarily host Afghan refugees, according to Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez, Philippine envoy to Washington. This came to light only when Sen. Imee Marcos called for a Senate inquiry into the matter.

Once again, the Philippines considers providing temporary refuge to foreigners, who are at risk in their own countries. This is potentially another “feel-good” moment for Filipinos who are psychologically and culturally predisposed to feel empathy for other suffering people, despite being in continuous dire straits themselves.

The country is in the doldrums, and the Afghan refugees will be a welcome distraction. There is neither clarity nor energy in the lazy swirl of domestic politics. The institution-based processes by which the nation is able to debate social and political issues are broken. There are no political parties to organize political narratives and movements. The opposition is still shell-shocked from the past elections and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The mainstream media is distrusted. Filipinos get their news from social media influencers. There is so much boredom that politicians are preparing for the next elections this early.

There is low public trust in political and judicial institutions. The contentious issues in Philippine politics are only superficially about the nation. People pay attention when proper names are mentioned, but only to see if they can find some exploitable personal connections.


Only in those areas where precise and accurate advice, as in preventing and healing COVID, do the people sit up and seek authoritative advice. Even there, the fear of vaccines that the Public Attorney’s Office cultivated among Filipinos before the pandemic still lingers, as is shown in the low vaccination rates among children.

One way of refreshing the ennui of daily lives in Filipino households is when there is a visitor, usually a relative who needs temporary lodging in the city, usually to apply for or start a new job. There is a psychological transformation that happens when households take a fresh look at their situation through the introduction of a new element that interacts with the domestic situation.

The Afghans in our midst might also help raise a mirror to ourselves. The contrast would also help put focus on the way Filipinos have treated their own internally displaced persons. The case of Marawi is indeed a critical and relevant point of comparison. Filipino society—government, the private sector, and civil society—certainly has not done enough for residents of Marawi who have been cast by the winds in every direction.

Even more hilarious, here we are about to give protection to thousands of foreigners subject to persecution by their government while we have been pretending that former senator Leila de Lima, in going through the hoops of our justice system, is getting that same protection. What a hypocritical juxtaposition in judicial and human rights narratives that would be, should the Afghans come aboard, especially since women and children are the ones most subjected to bizarre treatment by the Taliban.


The biggest fly in the ointment is that this is not a Filipino initiative. It is an initiative of the US to make up for its botched engagement in Afghanistan. The Philippines is being asked to be a handmaiden to the US process of vetting which of the Afghans will be accepted into the US. This project is not an effort to solve the Afghan refugee crisis, only a face-saving device of a superpower that had been forced out in panic, unceremoniously ending America’s longest war, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

This humanitarian activity would be more palatable if undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees rather than just a bilateral Philippine-United States operation. Otherwise, this puts the Philippines again in the role of sidekick to the United States.


The problem with the Americans is that they have so easily begun to fall back on the mold of the close and special ties they had with the Philippines, which Filipinos found to be “too close for comfort and too special for self-respect.” I wonder why they seem to be acting as if they hold President Marcos by the neck or by the balls.

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TAGS: Afghan refugees, On The Move, PH refugee policy

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