DOJ clarifies stand on "Boat People" from Bangladesh and Myanmar

18 May 2015

Irregular migration of "boat people" from Myanmar and Bangladesh is not new. Its escalation is brought about by the disruption of human trafficking chain running from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Thailand and Malaysia.

These "boat people", reportedly as many as 6,000 drifting at sea, is a humanitarian crisis that calls for humanitarian measures to meet the challenges of countries to whom they may ask for help. They may be victims of persecution. In their desperation to leave the territory where their life or freedom has been threatened, or their human rights have been seriously violated, they even become willing victims of human smuggling. It is not uncommon for human traffickers to procure false passports or send their victims off without any travel documents.

Like any other country, aliens who enter the Philippines without a passport or on false passport are undocumented which is a violation of our immigration law that will ordinarily subject them to exclusion proceeding. However, asylum seekers cannot always be expected to obtain travel documents particularly where the agent of persecution is the State. Hence, their situation deserves to be treated and examined in a different context.

The Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. A process is in place to accord the protection of the Philippine Government to genuine asylum seekers.

The Philippines had its share of hosting asylum seekers in the past even before it became a signatory to the 1951 Convention that was adopted on July 22, 1981. As early as the Second World War, it provided asylum to 1,500 Jews refugees who had been denied asylum in other countries. The Philippines is willing to share to other Southeast Asian countries its experience in the management of asylum seekers.

As to those who traffick asylum seekers, they shall be dealt with in accordance with the law against human trafficking.

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