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Bangladesh thanks PH for asylum offer

A Bangladeshi diplomat on Thursday expressed his government’s gratitude to the Philippines for its willingness to take in the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) who have been adrift at sea for weeks after being turned away by other countries.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Philippines retired Maj. Gen. John Gomes told reporters the Philippine statement on welcoming the migrants adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca should they make it to Philippine shores was met with great appreciation in his country.

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“It was breaking news in Bangladesh and we were overwhelmed with all kinds of telephone calls from our government, including our foreign minister. We contacted the Philippine government and we expressed our thanks,” Gomes said.

Nice gesture

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The Philippine offer was “a very nice gesture,” he added.

Because of the country’s positive response to the plight of the Rohingya and Bangladeshis, Gomes said, other Southeast Asian countries that had refused the migrants refuge were forced to rethink their policy.

“As a result of the Philippines coming forward, we now [see that] Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have decided to do what the Philippines has done, and we are indeed very grateful for this,” he said.

News reports said Malaysia and Indonesia had both agreed to give temporary refuge to the migrants. Thailand will provide humanitarian assistance and will no longer turn boats away.

The Rohingya minority, fleeing persecution by radical Buddhists in Myanmar after escaping poverty in Bangladesh, are stranded at sea without food or water after being abandoned by their human traffickers. Poor Bangladeshis are reportedly among them.

Gomes said that if the refugees, who are really too far away, do make it to Philippine shores, “definitely the Bangladeshi government will cooperate with the Philippine government.”

But why stop there?

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After expressing willingness to accept the Rohingya, the Philippines should take the next step and rescue them at sea.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), an organization of human rights lawyers, stressed Thursday the urgency of bringing the refugees to land.

‘Compelling imperative’

“Over and above all the legal niceties, political considerations and tedious administrative protocol, is the compelling imperative to immediately rescue, give succor and bring in the Rohingya boat people with dispatch on cogent humanitarian reasons,” NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said.

“Time is of the essence,” he added.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had earlier expressed the Philippines’ willingness to take in the Rohingya should they drift to the country to honor obligations in international treaties pertaining to refugees and stateless people.

Olalia said the Philippines should “exercise compassion” for the refugees, who are victims of human trafficking and persecution.

Unwanted elsewhere

Thousands of people belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority have been stranded at sea, escaping persecution in Burma, which for decades has been driving them away.

Human traffickers who have been shipping them to camps in Thailand abandoned them at sea, with no food or water.

Olalia said the refugees, unwanted in other territories, should be accepted even without travel documents and be provided basic needs upon arrival in the Philippines.

“They should not be mandatorily required to undergo the tedious process of submitting documents or any proof of their identity or origin which they may not have, given the circumstances,” Olalia said.

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TAGS: Bangladesh, Boat People, Diplomacy, migrants, Philippines, Rohingya
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