MANILA: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Monday that the Philippine government is still carefully looking into a request for his country to temporarily host Afghan nationals awaiting their US visa applications, as Manila mulled over political and security concerns.
The request was first relayed last year by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to a report by the Associated Press, and again brought up when Marcos visited Washington D.C. in May.
The full details of the request have not been made public and are still being discussed between the treaty allies.
“I would like to manifest the Filipino instinct of hospitality,” Marcos told reporters on Monday. There have been instances in which refugees were not accepted elsewhere, he added, “but we accept them. And those we helped did not forget us. That is the Filipino character.”
But the case concerning Afghan refugees is “a different story,” he said, adding that “politics and security are involved.”
Marcos said: “This is more complicated. So, we’ll look at it very, very well before making a decision.”
There are still “some major obstacles” in approving the US request despite progress made in the discussions, the president continued, adding that the Philippines will “continue to consult with our friends in the United States.”
He previously said that American officials had told him that only a maximum of 1,000 Afghan nationals would be allowed to stay in the Philippines at any one time while their special immigrant visas are being processed.
The withdrawal of US-led forces and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, many of whom had hopes of relocating to the West.
The Philippines is party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has a long history of taking in refugees fleeing war and persecution in their home countries, including 300 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in 2015 to seek safety in neighboring countries.
“It is important to note that the Philippines has not shied away from accommodating refugees in the past,” Don McLain Gill, director for South and Southeast Asia at the Philippine-Middle East Studies Association, told Arab News.
“Such policies depend largely on … domestic and international conditions,” he said. “Today, while the Philippines is still reeling under the negative socio-economic effects of the pandemic and the ongoing war in Eastern Europe, along with the incomplete rehabilitation of residents in Marawi City, the need for Manila to be practical in its choices is crucial.”
The Philippines’ track record in hosting refugees may have also been a factor considered by the US, said Restituto Aguilar, retired general and military historian.
“They might think that the Philippines, having had the precedence in accepting other nationalities, which would have been controversial during those times, could be a convenient staging point,” Aguilar told Arab News.
“When we talk to them, we have to lay down our cards also. In accepting that challenge or responsibility, we must be assured that they will be of help in ensuring that there will be safeguards (for the Philippines).”