Philippines still mulling over UN plea to take in Syrians

The Philippines has yet to respond to the plea of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to accept Syrian refugees escaping their war-torn country, according to Malacañang.

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma on Sunday said over the state-run Radyo ng Bayan the Philippines, which admitted thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and '80s, had yet to reply to the UN agency.

"We just want to make sure that we can manage it properly, that we don't take on more than we can handle," Coloma said, quoting President Aquino.

Coloma, also head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), said the President had noted that a large number of Filipinos were still living in extreme poverty.

"We would like to deploy our resources to better the lives of our people and do our fair share," Mr. Aquino was quoted as saying.

The PCOO chief said that before responding to the United Nation's call, there is a need to look at the country's situation and have our capabilities assessed by the United Nations and other organisations.

"The President himself has said that we should ensure that we're doing enough to help our countrymen in calamity-hit areas because they are the government's priority," Coloma said.

Bernard Kerblat, the UNHCR representative to Manila, had urged President Aquino to respond to his agency's call to admit Syrian refugees fleeing their devastated country but finding other Middle East and European countries closing their doors on them.

Two years now

Kerblat reportedly said they were renewing their call to "explore the possibility for the government of the Philippines to take a proactive role in selecting refugees."

The UNHCR official disclosed the agency has been in talks with the Philippine government two years now on the possibility of accepting refugees.

The agency, however, has yet to receive an official response from the Palace, Kerblat said.

"What we are proposing is this: Will the Philippines be prepared to look at options and sit down with already 64 [UN member-states] that have joined in offering either temporary protection or admission or granting refugee status to people in need of asylum," the UN official said.