The Philippines cannot take more refugees than it can handle, Malacañang said even as the Department of Foreign Affairs has expressed the country’s willingness to accept refugees under its commitment to the United Nations.
“We just want to make sure that we can manage it properly, that we don’t take on more than what we can handle,” President Benigno Aquino III had said as cited by Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. during an interview over state-run dzRB.
Coloma quoting Aquino’s statement said the “vast majority of our people are still living in poverty. We would like to deploy or use our resources to better the lives of our people and do our fair share,” Coloma also said quoting Aquino’s statement.
Coloma said, that even though the Philippines wants to help, the ‘fair share’ must be considered, as well as the resources of the Philippines must be a basis for its giving help to the refugees.
He said the government has other priorities to attend to such as the rehabilitation of areas stricken by Typhoon “Yolanda,” the earthquake-hit Bohol and the siege of Zamboanga City where thousands have been displaced by fighting between state troopers and Moro rebels.
Coloma said in the government’s commitment to helping Vietnamese refugee, the country will only serve as a transition or transient point, and reception area, before their transfer to another country.
Aquino earlier said the country is open to accepting Syrian refugees to the Philippines, but this is only under the particular circumstance that the number should be limited to a number the government can properly manage and handle.
Citing meager government resources, Aquino said in a forum that while the government sympathizes with the terrible plight of the migrants and would welcome them to the Philippines anytime, the general welfare of the Filipino people remains a priority.
“The history is there, the culture is there. We just want to make sure that we manage it properly, that we don’t take more than what we can handle,” Aquino said.
Aquino noted the country’s history of accepting migrants such as the Vietnamese refugees who became known as ‘boat people’ decades ago, the Jewish who were taken in by President Manuel Quezon at the height of World War II and the Uighurs from Rohingya just recently—all proof the Philippines is ready to assist these people.
The DFA said the country is willing to accept refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in keeping with its commitment to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, in which the country pledged to extend assistance to war refugees.
But DFA spokesperson Charles Jose echoed Aquino’s sentiment, saying the government must first consider its ample resources, especially now that it is still in the rehabilitation stage following a series of natural disasters which devastated many parts of the country like Bohol, Leyte and Samar.
“While we will abide by our commitments as a signatory to the UN Convention on refugees, we should also take into account our own resources and capabilities, considering we are still in the rehabilitation stage from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda,” Jose said.