Manila: The decision of the Philippine government to host Rohingya from Myanmar has influenced Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to do the same thing, an envoy said. Philippine government officials and the United Nations also discussed rescue plans for Rohingya at sea.
“The whole turnabout [of other countries deciding to accept the Rohingya] had been seen as a result of the Philippines coming forward,” Bangladesh Ambassador to the Philippines John Gomes said.
Instead of waiting for them to reach the Philippine shores, rescue ships should be sent out to get them on the highs seas, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
“I think humanitarian consideration such as saving lives should transcend any other consideration,” De Lima, who met with a country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said.
There is a “continuing dialogue with the local office of the UNHCR on how the Philippines may be able to meaningfully fulfil its commitment to the attainment of the UN’s humanitarian objectives [for stateless people],” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, said. He did not give the location of the proposed temporary site for the Rohingya.
Earlier, Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines’ President Archbishop Socrates Villegas had said, “There is an obligation not to leave them [the migrants] to the mercy of the elements on the high seas.”
The Philippine government signed in 1955, and ratified in 2011, the 1954 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees — it calls on countries that accept refugees to give them board, lodging, health care, education and work (with equal opportunities as given to locals). In the seventies, the Philippines hosted two processing centres for Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.
About 25,000 Rohingya boarded boats from January to March this year, higher than the recorded 12,500 in the same period last year. UNHCR said, adding their route included the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, and Malacca Strait off Malaysia.
UNHCR counted more than 6,000 Rohingya, including 4,000 at the Gulf of Bengal; 1,259 off Indonesia; 1,107 off Malaysia; and 400 near Thailand. Earlier, Malaysia processed the entry of 120,000 Rohingya.
The refugee problem must be solved by the 10-member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia said. ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam
In 2012, 140,000 of 1.1 million Rohingya were displaced in clashes with Rakhine Buddhists. The Buddhists also call the Rohingya “Bengalis,” implying they are not ASEAN, but from nearby Bangladesh.