The Philippines has become only the second country in the world to be formally designated as a transit country for at-risk refugees on their way to resettlement elsewhere under an agreement reached by the United Nations and the Asian nation.
The pact, signed last week in Manila by the Philippine Government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), means individual refugees in danger will be able to find a temporary haven in the Philippines while en route to resettlement in a third country.
Under the agreement, the refugees may stay in the Philippines for up to six months before they are resettled elsewhere. A similar deal with UNHCR was struck with Romania in March this year.
Raymond Hall, UNHCR’s regional coordinator for South-East Asia, praised the Philippines for setting what he described as “the protection benchmark in Asia.” The country is one of the few in its region to have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“It is providing significant space for individual refugees who otherwise would be in danger of refoulement [forced return to a country where a person faces possible persecution] or of other serious threats to their well-being,” he said. “This will allow the onward resettlement process to be completed without such pressures and in a way that assures adequate protection.”
UNHCR says it expects that it will mainly be refugees from other Asian countries who will be evacuated to the Philippines as a result of the agreement, but vulnerable people from other regions can also be sent there.