During 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Philippines President Duterte announced that, Philippines will continue to ‘uphold human dignity’. Hence, it is willing to extend its assistance to Rohingya refugees and also to Afghan refugees as a continuation of its humanitarian tradition. According to Philippines News Agency report, President Duterte reiterated to work closely with United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and host specific number of the Rohingya depending on its capacity. President Duterte’s statement has been highly appreciated in both home and abroad and once again proved Philippines’ strong commitment to 1951 convention, and its humanitarian values.
However, this is not the first time Philippines gave such commitment. In Global Refugee Forum 2019, Philippines pledged to work for solving the Rohingya crisis. Moreover, during its presidency in ASEAN, Philippines also tried to solve the issue in regional multilateral forum. Apart from raising the voice on behalf of the voiceless Rohingya, Philippines also pledged to donate $100 thousand to maintain the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. Philippines such humanitarian motivations are driven by its traditional believes known as ‘Malasakit’, meaning ‘Sharing the Burden of the Other’s pain’; and ‘Bayanihan’, meaning ‘Spirit of Unity and Cooperation’. By pledging to host the Rohingya refugees who faced atrocities and crimes against humanity, Philippines proved that, it believes ‘Byanihan’ from a global perspective.
Historically, Philippines is a host country for people facing persecution. Till now, nine waves of refugees including ‘White Russians’, holocaust survivors, Chinese and Iranian dissidents and many others took shelter in Philippines. Even, since 2015, Philippines gave shelter to 300 Rohingya refugees drifting in the sea. Moreover, Philippines’ following ‘Social Cohesion’ policy also eased refugee lives in there. Over the time, it has also given Philippines a multiethnic outlook.
Rohingya crisis has become a regional security threat. Day by day, the threat is ever growing. As the days are passing by without any positive development, the uncertainty is increasing. As a result, Rohingya are becoming more vulnerable to various security concerns including extremism, arms trafficking, human trafficking, illegal contrabands and illegal migration. Moreover, the recent developments in Myanmar have also put the repatriation process on halt. As a result, the whole process has become stagnant. On the other hand, unfortunately, the funds for maintaining camps are decreasing proportionately. In this context, Philippines such commitment in the UNGA will lighten burden from Bangladesh’s shoulder.
On the other hand, Philippines’s such decision is also appreciated in a context when Myanmar is facing multifaceted problems. Since the coup in February, democracy in Myanmar is facing serious threat. Moreover, a civil war has broken out, and due to ongoing political turmoil, Myanmar has produced a large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and many refugees and asylum seekers. Furthermore, economic fallout and ongoing violations of human rights have also raised concerns in global arena. However, due to Myanmar’s strong geostrategic position and growing intense geopolitics of the region especially in the context of super power rivalry, new challenges has emerged in solving the Rohingya crisis. In this context, Philippines has once again upheld the humanitarian values. However, an unstable Myanmar is a threat for both Philippines and Bangladesh in their short term and long term policy objectives because of its geographic location between South Asia and South East Asia. In this context, solving the crisis and lifting up situation in Myanmar will also serve Philippines’ security objectives also.
Both Bangladesh and Philippines have warm relations for a long time. There are hardly any matters of dispute among the countries. Moreover, both countries have cooperative relations among them. Philippines helped Bangladesh in recovering stolen money in recent past when hackers siphoned Bangladesh Bank’s money. Both countries also have diplomatic engagement on the Rohingya crisis. For Bangladesh, President Duterte’s speech comes as a burden sharing. Therefore, Bangladesh appreciates the commitment.
The Rohingya crisis has already become a regional security concern. Gradually, the concern is rising at an alarming rate. At the same time, The Rohingya are also becoming more vulnerable than ever. Hence, prolonging the issue will only create bigger problem for the region. Moreover, there is also a global moral responsibility to save the community. After four years, it seems Myanmar has least intention to repatriate the Rohingya. Therefore, to solve the issue and uphold dignity of the ‘World’s most persecuted minority’; all countries should come forward and share the burden. In this context, Philippines also has the potential to assume an extended role. And pledging to host the Rohingya in UNGA can be a step towards it which Bangladesh appreciates highly.
*MD Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh