MORE than its international obligation, the Philippines or any other country has the moral duty to help refugees or the so-called boat people who are fleeing their homelands as a consequence of political conflicts, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Lingayen-Dagupan Archibishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, on Thursday took the cudgels for thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority and Bangladeshi migrants who have fled their countries to seek refuge or asylum in other countries.
“It is however a saddening fact that some countries in our Southeast Asian region have turned these refugees away, refusing them the comfort of even just a temporary stay.
Ironically, the countries that turn refugees away vie with each other for tourists and investors! In many instances, coast guard and naval patrol vessels tow these boats, brimming over with their load of our hungry, sick and desperate brothers and sisters back to the high seas, there to face the elements, and often, sadly, to perish!,” Villegas, in a pastoral letter, said.
“While it may be true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that of any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from. There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them. And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas,” the archbishop added.
There were earlier reports that Thailand and Indonesia were driving away the “boat” people seeking solace on their shores.
A Malaysian high official was even quoted as saying that the refugees should be sent to signatory countries to the United Nations 1951 refugee convention, such as the Philippines and Cambodia.
Malaysia, the official pointed out, is not a signatory to the UN convention.