On World Refugee Day, De Lima files bill to protect refugees and stateless persons

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In observance of World Refugee Day, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima today filed a measure seeking to promote and protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons in the country and prescribe a fair procedure for their status determination and eligibility.

In filing Senate Bill (SB) No. XX, De Lima noted that despite the country’s history of hosting several waves of refugees, the Philippines still lacks a law that sets the criteria and fixes the procedure in determining the status of refugees and stateless persons.

“Refugees are a global phenomenon. In different parts of the world, large groups of people are forced to leave their home countries because of war, armed conflicts, and persecution. They are in search of safer places,” she said.

As of June 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) placed around 65.6 million people around the world who are forcibly displaced worldwide and among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees.

UNHCR also disclosed that there are 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights including education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

De Lima noted that the Philippines served as host to several waves of refugees, including the “White Russians” who fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jews during World War II, the Chinese in the aftermath of the Communist revolution, and the Vietnamese “boat people” after South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnam.

“Throughout the history of refugees, one such place that was always considered as a safe haven is the Philippines. In all instances, we have always provided them safe haven, ever true to our nature as a warm and hospital people,” she added.

In May 2015, when she was justice secretary, De Lima put forth the idea of sending ships to rescue 3,000 Rohingya refugees from the sea and provide them shelters as a humanitarian measure to avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Last December, De Lima has supported a draft resolution submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union expressing serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis affecting Rohingya people in Myanmar, one of the world’s most prosecuted minorities.

De Lima explained that although the Philippines has implemented policies that seek to address some of the challenges posed by the global refugee phenomenon and that of the stateless persons, it does not have a clear-cut procedure to determine their status.

“[T]here is a need to enact a law to establish that central authority and institutionalize the status determination procedure for refugees and stateless persons,” she pointed out.

In her measure, also known as the “Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Act of 2018,” De Lima proposed the creation of the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Board (Protection Board) as the central authority to determine the status of refugees and stateless persons and their eligibility for protection.

The Protection Board is mandated to prescribe rules and regulations to properly implement the Act and to receive, examine and decide applications for status as refugee or stateless persons while promoting programs for their protection.

Through the proposed measure, the Senator from Bicol also sought to strengthen the government’s cooperation and coordination with the UNHCR and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other relevant institutions and agencies. “The Protection Board may seek the CHR and the UNHCR for their expertise, technical guidance and assistance. It shall inform the CHR and the UNHCR about relevant policies and programs pursued by the Philippine Government toward ensuring the implementation and compliance with the UN Conventions and the provisions of this Act,” she noted.

The Philippines is a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol, and the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

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