'Afghan nationals' refugee status is DOJ's call' — DFA

Published August 24, 2021, 4:29 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The Department of Foreign Affair (DFA) will yield to the Justice department when it comes to the acceptance of Afghan nationals who wish to seek refugee status in the Philippines.

Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

This was the clarification made by DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez more than a week after the Philippine government announced that its doors are open to Afghan refugees following the fall of Kabul to the hands of the Taliban.

“DOJ Sec. (Menardo) Guevarra has explained the process that involves international organizations. DFA defers to DOJ on this matter,” Meñez said in a message to the Manila Bulletin Tuesday.

Last week, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque cited decades-old jurisprudence and even the Convention on Refugees Welcoming Asylum Seekers as basis for the Philippines’ policy of accepting individuals fleeing their homelands because of fear of persecution.

“Welcome po ang mga asylum seekers sa Pilipinas. Nung panahon po na natanggal ang czar of Russia, tinanggap po natin sila. Nung panahon po ng Pangalawang Pandaigdigang Digmaan, tinaggap po natin mga Hudyo sa ating bayan. Lahat po ng kinakailangan ng kalinga dahil sila po ay pini-persecute sa kanilang bayan, mayroon po kayong lugar dito sa Pilipinas (Asylum seekers are welcome in the Philippines. When the Russian czar was overthrown, we accepted them. In the Second World War, we welcomed Jews into our country. All those who need to seek refuge from being persecuted have a place in the Philippines),” Roque said in last week’s press briefing.

Guevarra, however, explained that if Afghan nationals arrive in the Philippines and apply for permanent status as refugees, the DOJ’s Refugees and Stateless Persons Unit (RSPU) will conduct the evaluation on whether these individuals meet the international standards for refugee status.

In addition, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) may be called upon to assist in determining if the applicant poses a threat to national security.

He further explained that upon determination and grant of refugee status by the DOJ, the Immigration office will implement the decision and issue the appropriate documentation to the applicant.

The Philippines, according to Guevarra, has an “emergency transit mechanism” in place pursuant to a memorandum of agreement it signed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).