By Jeoffrey Maitem
Security concerns and other issues could hinder a proposed deal with the United States for the Philippines to temporarily host Afghan refugees, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. indicated on Thursday.
Following a request by the Biden administration, Washington and Manila are currently negotiating the transfer to the Southeast Asian nation of Afghans nationals formerly employed by the U.S., and their dependents, who are applying for special immigrant visas (SIV) through the American Embassy.
“There are many issues involved in that question. That is why I was a little surprised when I saw some of the news reports saying there’s a deal [with] the U.S. There is no deal. We are still looking exactly at how to make it work, if we can,” Marcos told reporters.
Tens of thousands of Afghans and their families were evacuated abroad during a round-the-clock airlift from Kabul in August 2021, as they fled when the last of U.S. and international coalition forces pulled out of Afghanistan and its capital fell to Taliban extremists, who now rule that country.
“These are Afghans who helped the Americans in war. And the Americans suddenly left their country, and left them. The truth is, they are really being killed by the enemy. But these are not refugees. This is something different, this is something we have not encountered before,” Marcos said.
“They are Afghans who are being resettled primarily in the United States and we are going to be the third country, that is the proposal by the Americans.”
Sen. Imee Marcos, the president’s sister, had earlier initiated a Senate inquiry into the potential deal, which had been kept under wraps, and expressed fears that bringing Afghan nationals to the Philippines could create security-related problems.
“We will continue to study it. Let’s see if there’s a way we can do it without endangering the security,” he added without saying how this could create a security problem for the country.
“It is entirely possible that we will not find a way to make it happen,” he said.
The Philippines has a long history of helping resettle refugees, Marcos said while reiterating that “there are many, many security issues.”
“Of course, we have to be conscious of that. But there are even more difficult legal and logistical issues,” he said. Still, negotiations would go on, he said, because “we want to help.”
Aside from security concerns, Marcos said there were also legal and logistical issues that must be considered in this matter, but he did not elaborate on what those issues might be. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to BenarNews follow-up requests for more information.
Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, who had been summoned to the Senate earlier, said the Philippines had received the request from the U.S. October last year, and that Marcos and U.S. President Joe Biden briefly discussed the proposal when the two leaders met at the White House in May.
Meanwhile, Jose Manuel Romualdez, Manila’s envoy to Washington, said on Thursday that he foresaw no negative effect on U.S.-Philippine relations should Manila decide not to accept the Afghans.
“There are many, many more things that we need to work with the United States. Some of them [we] have already said we can’t do it,” Romualdez told ANC, a local news channel.
“We have been requested on many occasions by the United States to support a resolution at the United Nations. On many occasions, we also did not. So, it did not affect our relationship with the United States. There’s mutual respect in my view between the U.S. and the Philippines.”
Romualdez also said he expected the government to reach a decision on the issue before mid-July.
“[A]nd I think the memorandum for the President’s approval or disapproval, whichever the case may be, will be sent to the Malacañang [presidential palace] probably as late as July 15,” he said, referring to a memo by him and his advisors on the U.S. request.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, an ally of President Marcos, said earlier this month that the Philippines had a duty in assisting Afghan nationals fleeing violence in their country. He noted that the country was a signatory to various United Nations conventions on protecting refugees.
Under former President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines had extended assistance to Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar, Tolentino said.
Duterte, in 2021, said he would allow the entry of Afghan nationals here escaping from the Taliban.
But President Marcos’s sister said that the Duterte administration “sufficiently disclosed its actions relative to such a policy.”
Duterte’s plan never materialized amid fears expressed by the public here that it could lead to a spillover of violence, specifically in the south of the country where violent extremist and Muslim militant groups have, for years, maintained links to foreign terrorists.