Philippines still undecided on taking in over 50,000 refugees from Afghanistan

US forces standing in front of a crowd that is waiting for their evacuation at Kabul airport on August 16, 2021.

The Philippine government needs to decide by mid-July whether it will agree to Washington’s request to take in as many as 50,000 refugees from Afghanistan while they wait for their US visas to be processed.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Wednesday that the refugees are former employees of the US government.

“I would think that before the middle of July, we should be able to make a decision and I think the memorandum for the [Philippines] President’s approval or disapproval, whichever the case may be, will be sent to Malacañang as probably as late as July 15. I’m just guessing but that’s more or less what we’re tracking right now from Washington D.C.,” Romualdez told ANC’s Headstart program.

Romualdez said before sending the memorandum to Malacañang, the presidential palace, the decision should first pass through the Senate Committee on foreign relations “so that the Philippine Senate would be aware of exactly what this memorandum is all about.”

The request was first relayed to the Philippine embassy in the US last October and later relayed to the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs.

The request was again raised in May, by US President Joe Biden during Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos’ official visit to the US.

While the request for special immigration visas for refugees from Afghanistan varies from 50,000 to 60,000, Romualdez said these will not all be processed in the Philippines, the Inquirer reported.

He also said that the Philippines has the final say on the number of Afghans it is willing to temporarily shelter while their visas are being processed.

While there has been some objection to the Philippines taking in the refugees, one influential cleric said it was the right thing to do.

A senior official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP-ECMI) said opening its doors to welcome the refugees was considered “acts of charity and compassion.”

“As a Catholic country, it is considered acts of charity and compassion to assist and to welcome them,” CBCP-ECMI vice chair Bishop Ruperto Santos said in a statement Tuesday.

He noted that Filipinos are known to be charitable and hospitable.
“It is our natural trait (to be) hospitable, helpful, and hardworking people,” Santos said.

He also believed that it is also part of the country’s international commitment to open its doors to refugees. “Our commitment as a United Nations signatory is to help and accommodate migrants and refugees,” he added.