Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday assured sufficient safeguards are in place to manage national security implications arising from the Philippines’ decision to accept potential refugees from Afghanistan.
“If Afghan nationals do arrive in the Philippines and apply for permanent status as refugees, the DOJ refugees and stateless persons unit (RSPPU) will evaluate whether they meet the international standards for refugee status,” Guevarra said in a statement.
He added that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) may be called upon to determine if the applicant poses a threat to national security.
“Upon determination and grant of refugee status by the DOJ, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) will implement the decision and issue the appropriate documentation to the applicant,” he said.
Guevarra said the country adopts an open-arms policy towards refugees and other persons suffering persecution in their home countries and these include potential Afghan refugees displaced by the current political unrest in their country.
“If their status as refugees is recognized by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and they need temporary shelter in the Philippines, we have an emergency transit mechanism in place pursuant to a memorandum of agreement with the UNHCR,” he added.
The DOJ chief said “there is no specific quota” on the number of refugees which may be taken in by the Philippines.
“Neither is there a well-defined order of preference as to who will be granted refugee status. Once granted refugee status, an applicant and his family are essentially on their own. but the philippine government may extend such assistance as it could afford,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) assured that the security situation in Mindanao is stable in wake of the political unrest in Afghanistan.
PNP chief, Gen. Guillermo Eleazar made this assurance after a national security expert warned of a possible spillover of the tension in Afghanistan to the southern part of the Philippines.
“I assure the public that the police and military will not allow a spillover of the Afghan conflict,” he added.
Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research chief Rommel Banlaoi said the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan’s government might inspire local terrorist groups to carry out attacks.
Eleazar said the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are closely coordinating to thwart attacks that may be carried out by local terrorist groups.
He also guaranteed that the PNP would be on full alert and intensify intelligence gathering operations against lawless groups.
Supported by Church
Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) supported the government’s move to accept Afghan refugees.
In an interview, Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos, vice chair of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI), said this act highlights the hospitality of the Filipino people.
“We are known to be hospitable, helpful, and hardworking people. We have hosted and helped those who were fleeing the Indochina wars known as ‘boat people’. To accept refugees is a very humane and compassionate act which are so inspiring, salvific, and very Biblical,” he added.
However, Santos said the country should be wary and implement safety precautions and protocols in accepting people due to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic remains.