‘Not refugees’: Envoy clarifies US request for PH to accept former US gov’t workers in Afghanistan
MANILA, Philippines — “It’s not refugees.”
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Babe Romualdez said this on Tuesday as he clarified that the US government’s request is for the Philippines to accommodate its former employees and their families “whose lives are in danger” in Afghanistan.
Romualdez said the Afghans will be given Special Immigration Visas, and will proceed to the US after being processed in the Philippines.
“The US request is to have a processing center in the Philippines, and it is still being studied and reviewed by the Philippine government,” he told the Inquirer in a Viber message.
A refugee, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, is a person “who has been forced to flee his or her country because of prosecution, war or violence.”
Around 69 percent of people displaced across borders come only from five countries, including Afghanistan.
Open for inquiry
Romualdez said he is “extremely pleased” Senator Imee Marcos called for an inquiry into the issue “so it can be properly vetted and discussed.”
Marcos, sister of the president and head of the Senate foreign affairs panel, filed a resolution seeking a probe into the proposed temporary housing in the Philippines of special immigrant applicants from Afghanistan.
She questioned the intention of the US in making such a request, noting that it had sought the Philippines’ help instead of other countries that are geographically closer to Afghanistan and are “better-equipped to accommodate such foreign nationals.”
“The fact that the US opted to house these foreign nationals in another country and not on US soil, even though these individuals are supporters of the US and, possibly, even former employees of the US government or US companies, casts doubt on the character and background of some of these individuals.”
Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, meanwhile, said there was “no problem” with him if the Philippines heeds the call of the US to allow Aghans to temporarily stay in the country.
This, he noted, would be “a good humanitarian act on the part of the Philippines.”
“However, my question is: how come the US cannot do all those temporary measures, the processing and the hosting themselves on US soil? It’s baffling. I’m sure the US has better and bigger existing buildings for this use than us,” Pimentel told reporters in a message.
Asked if the issue calls for a Senate inquiry, Pimentel said this is a possibility so the upper chamber can be more involved in foreign policy matters.
Since the early 20th century, the Philippines has been accepting refugees from conflict-stricken countries.
Shortly after Afghanistan’s capital Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, then-Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines had already started taking in Afghan refugees, including women and children.