Gov’t evaluating US request for Afghans’ temporary stay in PH

By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos and Wilnard Bacelonia

June 16, 2023, 8:25 pm

MANILA – The government is currently evaluating the United States’ (US) request for President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to allow the temporary stay of Afghanistan refugees in the Philippines, Malacañang said on Friday.

“It's a request from the United States government. The request is currently under evaluation,” Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said in a statement.

Garafil issued the statement in reaction to reports that US President Joe Biden, during his meeting with Marcos in Washington D.C. in May, raised the request to temporarily accept refugees fleeing from a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Biden “briefly raised” the issue with Marcos during the two leaders’ bilateral meeting in May this year.

The request was first made in Oct. 2022 and is for “pure processing” of special immigration visas for Afghans and their families who formerly worked for the US government and “whose lives are in danger,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said on Wednesday.

Romualdez said the fleeing nationals would be vetted and “will be repatriated back to Afghanistan,” in the event that their entry request is declined.

He, however, clarified that the chances of this happening is about “.0001 percent”.

On Tuesday, Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez expressed support for the US request, noting that the plan, if approved by Marcos, may not be new.

Rodriguez recalled that in September 2021, then-foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. disclosed that the Philippines had taken in Afghan refugee women and children after the fall of Afghanistan to Taliban.

Kabul fell under the rule of Taliban in August 2021, prompting a chaotic pullout of American forces days before the US completed its withdrawal after a 20-year war in Afghanistan.


Solon favors PH opening its doors to Afghans

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Tolentino sees nothing wrong about accommodating Afghan employees of the United States government but emphasized that it should undergo proper processing.

Tolentino on Friday called for swift actions, similar to those undertaken during the Quezon and Duterte administrations, to provide temporary refuge and support to foreigners seeking safety and stability.

“I think we have abided and complied fully with all our international humanitarian commitments including the possible erasure of what they term as 'human rights records' of our country," he added.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, who was virtually present during the inquiry, clarified that included in the proposal is a "vetting" process by the US government of the displaced Afghans before being endorsed to travel to the Philippines.

"'Yan ang sabi sa atin ng mga Amerikano na (What the Americans told us is that) they will be vetted first, double checked before coming to the Philippines and again, through processing," he said.

Romualdez said the US is also proposing that the displaced Afghans be accommodated by batches of around 1,000 to 1,500 individuals per month.

"Not all of these 30,000 or whatever it is they intend to process will come to the Philippines and they will be here waiting for their processing. It will be by batches and it is completely up to us," Romuladez told the Committee, assuring that the foreigners’ stay will only be temporary.

He added that the Afghans, who are currently in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were employees of the US Embassy in Kabul and who are currently being processed by the US government to be given Special Immigrant Visas.

Senator Imee Marcos, who presided over the hearing, questioned what legal obligations the Philippines has to accommodate the Afghan nationals “since they are clearly not refugees.”
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said during the same hearing that he sought the opinion of the Department of Justice on the issue. (PNA)