PHL prepared to help boatpeople

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015. Filed under: Philippine News
Fast and furious Bancarera racers at Sarbay in Gumasa, Sarangani (15 May 2015) - Federico Canoy of Maasim (center); Sam Bastida of Davao del Sur (right); and Joviro Veresraiz of Maasim (left) race in the finals of Bombo Radyo’s Bancarera: SarBay 2015 Edition Friday, May 15, ousting the other 45 banca racers from different regions of Mindanao. Canoy crossed the finish line first with an official time of 3:39:08 closely followed by Bastida (3:45:08). Web updates powered by SMART. (Russell Delvo for Sarangani Information Office)

Fast and furious Bancarera racers at Sarbay in Gumasa, Sarangani (15 May 2015) – Federico Canoy of Maasim (center); Sam Bastida of Davao del Sur (right); and Joviro Veresraiz of Maasim (left) race in the finals of Bombo Radyo’s Bancarera: SarBay 2015 Edition Friday, May 15, ousting the other 45 banca racers from different regions of Mindanao. Canoy crossed the finish line first with an official time of 3:39:08 closely followed by Bastida (3:45:08). Web updates powered by SMART. (Russell Delvo for Sarangani Information Office)

Manila, Philippines (AFP) Tuesday 5/19/2015 – The Philippines said Tuesday it was ready to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi boatpeople, as its Southeast Asian neighbours faced outrage for turning them away.

The Philippines is obliged to help the migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution, because it is party to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and foreign department spokesman Charles Jose both said.

“We have the commitment and the obligation to extend humanitarian assistance to these asylum seekers,” Jose told ANC television, without giving details.

De Lima stressed that “saving lives” was paramount.

“I think humanitarian consideration should transcend any other consideration. First thing is the humanitarian concern, saving lives,” de Lima said after meeting with the country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past week, with thousands more believed to be drifting on boats without food or water.

The three governments have sparked international outrage for driving away some of the migrant boats, who are believed to have been deserted by human trafficking rings after a Thai crackdown.

“It is not a crisis that can be solved by a single state. It’s a collective responsibility,” Bernard Kerblat, the country representative of the UNHCR, told AFP after meeting with de Lima.

President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman also said the Philippines was open to helping the refugees.

“As the only predominantly Catholic nation in Southeast Asia, it is our duty to provide succor to those in need,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma told AFP.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where they have no legal rights, making them a target for human traffickers. Up to 1.3 million live in the western Rakhine state.

Malaysia and Thailand have called on Myanmar to stem the flow of the Rohingya but Myanmar has refused to take responsiblity, claiming the group is composed of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Kerblat said the Philippines and Myanmar have been invited to attend a conference on the crisis to be hosted by Thailand on May 29, but both countries had yet to confirm their attendance.

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and the United States are among 15 other governments that are attending the meeting, he said, describing it as a “step in the right direction.”

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