The Philippines says will not push back boats carrying refugees

A Rohingya migrant child, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, carrying belongings while walking to a bigger shelter inside a temporary compound for refugees in Kuala Cangkoi village in Lhoksukon, Indonesia's Aceh province, on May 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: RE
A Rohingya migrant child, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, carrying belongings while walking to a bigger shelter inside a temporary compound for refugees in Kuala Cangkoi village in Lhoksukon, Indonesia's Aceh province, on May 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

The Philippines said on Monday that it will not push back boats carrying thousands of refugees who had been turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"The Philippines, as a state party to relevant instruments, such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, concretely manifested its solidarity with the United Nations in providing succor and relief to persons involuntarily displaced from their homelands as a consequence of political conflict," President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said in a statement.

"We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and longstanding mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the Convention," he added.

Mr Coloma released the statement in response to a report in The Philippine Daily Inquirer that quoted him as saying the Philippines would push back the refugees if they attempt to land on its shores.

"What was cited in the… Inquirer report was a mere restatement of applicable provisions of our existing laws," he clarified.

Mr Coloma pointed out that the Philippines had in the past offered shelter to thousands of Vietnamese at the height of the Vietnam war in the 1970s up to the early 90s.

A refugee camp was set up at the Philippine Refugee Processing Centre in Morong town in Bataan province, 145km north of the capital Manila.

Most of the refugees who stayed there had been resettled in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Britain. Others were later repatriated to Vietnam.

As many as 8,000 boat people are estimated to be adrift at sea after they were turned away by Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. They are mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and also some Bangladeshi nationals. They had been abandoned by people smugglers spooked by Thailand's recent crackdown on human trafficking.

With the distance, however, they are unlikely to reach the Philippines from where they are right now.

rdancel@sph.com.sg