Afghan refugees began to arrive in the Philippines on Wednesday night, officials said. The country is the first in Southeast Asia to welcome people fleeing the Taliban takeover that followed the withdrawal of US troops at the end of August.
Thousands of people have left Afghanistan in the past two weeks, and the UN has warned that as many as half a million might flee their homeland before the end of this year.
Authorities in the Philippines last month said the country was willing to provide shelter for people who fear persecution in Afghanistan. In making the announcement, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque cited the nation’s long history of welcoming asylum seekers, including those who escaped the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and European Jews who sought refuge during the Second World War.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed on Wednesday night that the first group of Afghans had arrived in the country.
“We stay steady where others waver: tonight we welcome Afghan nationals, including women and kids, seeking refuge,” he wrote in a message posed on Twitter. “Our doors are open to those fleeing conflict, persecution, sexual abuse and death.”
He added that no further information about the new arrivals would be disclosed, to preserve their safety and privacy “We’re not interested in publicity or thanks,” Locsin said. “This is done so one can look at himself in the mirror. Period.”
An immigration official told Arab News on Thursday that there are legal restrictions on the information about refugees that can be shared.
“We are unable to provide information about this matter, following standard procedures on the processing of refugees and (people with) stateless status, as set by the Department of Justice,” the official said.
Gustavo Gonzalez, the UN’s resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines, thanked the country’s government for “welcoming Afghan nationals seeking protection.” In a message posted on Twitter he described it as: “Another demonstration of the long-standing solidarity of Filipino people.”
Last month, the UN Refugee Agency praised the Philippines for its “prompt action and initiative to welcome forcibly displaced Afghan nationals.”
The Philippines and Cambodia are the only countries in Southeast Asia that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.