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Church says PHL has ‘moral duty’ to accept refugees

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A Section of the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan that was host to about 18,000 "Boat People" from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that took refuge in the Philippine in the 1970's.

A Section of the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan that was host to about 18,000 "Boat People" from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that took refuge in the Philippine in the 1970's. (File photo)

MANILA, 20 May 2015–More than its international obligations to protect refugees, the Philippines has a moral imperative to help vulnerable migrants who will seek solace at the country’s shores, the Catholic hierarchy said.

After other Southeast Asian turned thousands of “boat people” from Myanmar and Bangladesh away, “refusing them the comfort of even just a temporary stay, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas said there was a duty to treat the refugees with compassion.

“While it may be true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that of any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from,” he said.

“There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them. And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas,” Villegas said.

The government earlier said it is open to rescue these undocumented migrants, pointing out that the Philippines signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The bishops have welcomed the government’s statement, even as they urge other nations in the region “to allow these refugees succor and assistance”.

“For while our own economic resources may not allow us to welcome every migrant as a permanent resident of our country, still there is always room for the weary and burdened to rest on our shores before they continue on their journey,” Villegas said.

The CBCP head recalled how the Philippines played its humanitarian role as host to some 400,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War in the 70s.

According to him, “our country then served as some kind of a way-station, because our Vietnamese guests soon found their way to other parts of the globe”.

“One of them, in fact, rose through the ranks of ecclesiastical academe to become dean of theology at one of Rome’s Pontifical Universities. It was a glorious chapter in our history, and we thank God that many of our priests and religious received the privilege of serving them,” he said.

“Once, our land was resplendent not only because of tourist spots and destinations, but because we welcomed refugees with the hospitality that has made us famous the world over,” added Villegas. (R. Lagarde/CBCPNews)


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