Karapatan supports the call for the unconditional provision of humanitarian aid and shelter for the Rohingya Muslims, Bangladeshi refugees and other asylum seekers.
We are alarmed by the statements of some Philippine government officials who have set preconditions for helping the refugees. Immigration chief Siegfred Mison was reported to have said that those without travel documents will be denied entry to the country, while the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Charles Jose, said that economic and security concerns will be taken into account.
There should be no preconditions to providing humanitarian aid, and the Philippine government should unequivocally comply with the provisions of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. There should be no qualms, no ifs, ands or buts about the Philippine government’s sheltering refugees.
Around 6,000 victims of human trafficking in several boats from Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh were left adrift for months by smugglers in Southeast Asian seas. In recent weeks, they sought refuge in other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The refugees, most of which are Rohingya Muslims, were enticed to travel to Malaysia with promises of work and better lives.
The Rohingya Muslims are considered a minority group in predominantly Buddhist Burma. They are today among the world’s most persecuted minorities. Burma’s law denies Rohingyas citizenship, and the Burmese government even denies their existence.
These refugees have been victimized by human traffickers with promises of a better future. They will be victimized again by bureaucratic red tape should the Philippine government insist on travel documents as prerequisites to providing them shelter. The lack of identity papers and travel documents on the part of a refugee may be remedied by the host country, as stated in Articles 27 and 28 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Karapatan also calls on all member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to comply with the international instruments recognizing the rights of refugees.
—CRISTINA PALABAY, secretary general, Karapatan, [email protected]
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