UNHCR commends the Philippine Government, through Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, for its swift expression of willingness to accept people forced to flee from Ukraine due to the ongoing emergency.
Secretary Guevarra’s statement to the press on the Philippines’ readiness to welcome forcibly displaced persons from Ukraine comes at the heels of an executive issuance institutionalizing the Government inter-agency body in charge of protection services for refugees, asylum seekers and persons who are stateless or at risk of statelessness – a move that is expected to make the country’s refugee and stateless status determination procedures more efficient and improve these vulnerable groups’ access to rights.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) 163 on 28 February, formalizing the organization of the Inter-Agency Committee on the Protection of Refugees, Stateless Persons and Asylum Seekers, which institutionalizes an Inter-Agency Agreement of the same name that was signed in October 2017.
The committee is composed of 20 government agencies led by the Department of Justice, through its Refugee and Stateless Persons Protection Unit. Among its most critical functions is to improve access of refugees and other persons of concern (POC) to courts, documentation, health and welfare assistance, education and skills training, and livelihood programs.
The committee is also tasked with issuing guidelines on data sharing and confidentiality as part of the establishment of an integrated coordination and referral system that would allow POC ease of access to Government services and assistance.
Aside from institutionalizing the duties of the IASC, EO 163 also ensures that funding for Government programs for POC is incorporated into the budgets of concerned agencies.
The EO also encourages local government units to support the integration of POCs within their communities, echoing a 2020 Department of the Interior and Local Government circular requesting local chief executives from the provincial to the barangay level to extend assistance and protective services to POC residing in their areas of responsibility.
This issuance reaffirms the Philippines’ long tradition of humanitarian assistance for refugees and stateless persons, and contributes to the fulfillment of the country’s obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol, and both the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, as well as pledges made during the Global Refugee Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness.
According to EO 163, the Philippine Government is strengthening its existing legal framework for the protection of POC in the country to address their need for protection, particularly in times of emergency.
“[T]he COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of refugees, stateless persons and asylum seekers to cross borders to seek protection, bringing to fore the need to integrate and institutionalize relevant policies and programs of government agencies and ensure that these communities of people are properly protected and accorded the widest possible exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms,” stated the EO.
UNHCR commends the Philippine Government’s continued commitment to improving the country’s protection space and policies for POC.
“The Philippines has proven once again that it is a leader in the region when it comes to ensuring the inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in Government programs and services, especially during these challenging times,” said UNHCR Philippines Head of National Office Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo.
While no individuals from Ukraine have sought asylum in the Philippines as of reporting, the country has served as a safe haven for nine waves of refugees in the past, including the Vietnamese boat people who fled the Vietnam War, and Jews escaping the Holocaust during World War II.
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