President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday said the Philippines will not accept the refugees to be sent by Australia if they will stay here permanently.
At the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines’ annual presidential forum, Aquino said the government is “seriously considering and studying” Australia’s proposal to take in refugees but the Philippines has its limitations.
“I think Australia can recognize that we do have a significantly bigger population than they do. We have challenges to meeting the needs of our people right now. We would want to assist but there are limitations as to how far we can assist,” the President said.
“If this proposed agreement is not one of transitory in nature, is not one of just being a transit point but actually relocating these people here, we feel we are not in a capacity at this point in time to afford permanent residency to these people,” he added.
Aquino recounted how the government opened its doors to Vietnamese refugees in the 80’s. He said the Philippines was supposed to be just a transit point for two to three years, but the refugees stayed far longer than that.
“The engagement actually was 15 years, and we had to take in several hundred thousands in that period of time, some of whom have actually become permanent residents in the country,” Aquino said.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose earlier confirmed that Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario met to discuss the refugee problem.
“The global discourse on the issue of migration and refugees was also discussed in the context of how each country is finding ways to fulfil its international obligation,” Jose earlier said.
Australia has struck a deal with Cambodia to accept refugees in exchange for millions of dollars in aid over the next four years.
A front-page report in Australia’s The Daily Telegraph said Bishop and Del Rosario had agreed to the Philippines accepting refugees for resettlement in exchange for $109 million.
The Australian government has not disclosed details of the proposal and Aquino did not elaborate on Tuesday.
However, Jose said the Australian government had proposed a permanent transfer of refugees.
Under Australia’s hardline policy to stop asylum-seeker boats reaching its shores, those arriving by sea are denied resettlement even if found to be genuine refugees.