News Stories, 31 August 2009
MANILA, Philippines, August 31 (UNHCR) – Under a breakthrough agreement, the Philippines has become a transit country for at risk refugees on their way to resettlement, only the second country in the world to formally play this vital role.
The new transit arrangement – the second in the world after one concluded with Romania in March this year – was put in place under an agreement signed last week in Manila by the Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Slovakia last week accepted a group of 98 Palestinian refugees from Iraq under a special resettlement transit deal.
"The Philippines is again setting the protection benchmark in Asia after signing the 1951 Refugee Convention and implementing a national asylum law and procedure," Raymond Hall, UNHCR's regional coordinator for Southeast Asia, said at the signing ceremony last Thursday. "Having fulfilled its international protection responsibilities, with this agreement it is making a significant gesture to broaden the system."
The idea is to provide a temporary haven for individual refugees in urgent need of evacuation from their first asylum countries. They may stay in the Philippines for up to six months before being resettled in third countries.
"By signing this agreement, the Philippines is providing an important protection tool, and widening protection space," Hall added. "It is providing significant space for individual refugees who otherwise would be in danger of refoulement [forced return] or of other serious threats to their well-being. This will allow the onward resettlement process to be completed without such pressures and in a way that assures adequate protection."
UNHCR foresees evacuating primarily refugees from Asia to the Philippines, but vulnerable civilians from all parts of the world could be processed here while waiting to be resettled in third countries.
The Philippines is one of the few countries in Asia to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, having done so in 1980.