Rights group says unacceptable for PH to deny assistance to Rohingya migrants

May. 18, 2015

DAVAO CITY – The Human Rights Watch called “heartless” the Philippine government’s response of denying assistance to Rohingya migrants who might enter Philippine waters.

Malacanang on Sunday said undocumented “boat people” will be pushed back to sea. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Bureau of Immigration will only allow entry to documented migrants who qualify as refugees or asylum seekers.

Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of HRW said “it’s unacceptable that the Philippine government’s response to an ongoing sea-borne humanitarian crisis is to deny any responsibility to assist and instead declare the Philippines Navy will push back out to sea desperate Rohingya migrants who might enter Philippines waters illegally.”

“That heartless policy choice effectively condemns to death those desperate boat people, who are already sick, starving and dying of thirst, who enter Philippines waters seeking assistance,” Kine said.

HRW in a statement said “the Philippines government distinguished itself during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War by showing compassion and adherence to international law by assisting the boat people from Vietnam to find safe harbor and eventually refugee status in other countries.”

“The government of President Benigno S. Aquino III should understand that turning a blind eye to the plight of the Rohingya boat people will not just put those thousands of desperate men, women and children in deadly peril, but do severe damage to the  Philippines reputation as a country  which respects its international obligations and chooses compassion and generosity over knee-jerk “border protection” measures  which do nothing but compound the suffering of migrants who are already extremely vulnerable,” Kine said.

Human Rights Watch said they would like to remind President Aquino that the Philippines ratified the 1951 refugees convention and its protocols, which specify that the state cannot just turn away even illegal refugees, as well as the Palermo convention and its protocols, which provide for the protection of trafficked persons.

“The Philippines government has a choice – provide a helping hand to citizens of a neighboring country in observance of the Philippines’s international legal obligations or deliberately violate those commitments at the risk of the lives of Rohingya boat people,” Kine said.

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