UNHCR and IOM Applaud the Philippine Government's Humanitarian Stance Toward Vulnerable People Stranded in Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Philippines have welcomed the Philippine Government’s statement of 18 and 19 May 2015 that the Philippines is open to support migrants and refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar currently stranded in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

The Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Secretary De Lima’s statement is consistent with the spirit and letter of refugee law and the international humanitarian approach to the treatment of refugees and stateless people. The Philippines’ Government has consistently offered protection to genuine asylum seekers since 1981.

Thousands of migrants and refugees are currently stranded on smugglers’ boats in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca. Some are being held captive by smugglers demanding ransoms from their families. Others have been abandoned by their crews with little food and water, following the Thai Government’s crackdown on human trafficking.

Bernard Kerblat, Representative of UNHCR in the Philippines, said: “We welcome Secretary De Lima’s declaration and are reassured that the right to asylum will be upheld. The Philippines has a strong humanitarian tradition of international protection in support of voiceless refugees. UNHCR is asking countries in Southeast Asia to approach this as a regional issue with real human consequences. It has been engaging governments in the region on the growing problem of irregular maritime movements.”

IOM’s Chief of Mission in the Philippines Marco Boasso also expressed his gratitude to the Government of the Philippines. “It is very clear that these people are in need of humanitarian assistance from the international community and governments in the region. IOM is ready to support the Government of the Philippines and our humanitarian partners in finding sustainable solutions for this group.”

The heads of UNHCR and IOM, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Migration & Development today issued a joint statement calling on governments in the region and the international community to help the stranded migrants. It can be downloaded here.

More information about the Government Statement can be found here.