PH eyed as transit point for refugees
The Philippines is seriously studying a proposal from Australia to use the country as a transit point for refugees, President Aquino said yesterday.
But “there is no agreement” yet between Manila and Canberra, Mr. Aquino clarified.
“There is a proposal propounded by the Australian government and we are seriously considering it and studying the matter,” he explained in a speech before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines at a Pasay City hotel.
“We would want to assist, but there are limitations as to how far we can assist,” he said.
He said that if the Australian proposal would involve a more permanent arrangement and the Philippines would be used not just as a transit point but actually relocate refugees in the country, “we feel we do not have the capacity at this point to afford permanent residency to these people.”
He recalled how in the aftermath of the wars in Indochina, the Philippines was helping refugees from that region.
“We were supposed to be a transit point. There was a general agreement that they would move on to third countries. The engagement actually was 15 years and we had to take in several hundred thousands in that period, some of whom actually became permanent residents in the country,” he said.
Australia, he added, “can recognize that we do have a significantly bigger population than they do. We have challenges meeting the needs of our people right now.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) early this month confirmed that discussions were going on between the Philippines and Australia regarding the issues of migration and refugees on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
But the DFA would not reveal the details of the $150-million refugee deal between the two countries to expand the Canberra government’s resettlement policy.
DFA spokesperson Charles Jose told reporters that the meeting between Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop “covered many areas of our bilateral relations.”
“The global discourse on the issue of migration and refugees was also discussed in the context of how each country is finding ways to fulfill its international obligations,” he said.
Last year, Australia struck a deal with Cambodia to relocate refugees from the camps, but the arrangement has struggled to get off the ground.
Bishop reportedly spoke with Del Rosario about a similar deal.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said “if we can strike an agreement that is in the best interests of our country and from the Philippines’ perspective, we will arrive at that point.”
He said they would “continue the negotiations (with the Philippines) because there is good faith on both sides.”
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