Refugeeing for dummies




The Manila Times


WHENEVER I meet people who incessantly complain about good ol’ RP, I feel compelled to tell them that, at least, they are not experiencing a big war since what we have are small wars, fought among ourselves to release tension like the smoking vents of Mount Makiling. However, in case everything turns from worse to worst — read on — and learn what “refugeeing” is all about. The Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. A refugee is defined as a person “owing to a well-founded fear of being prosecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or because of his political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” This qualification has entitled former communist cadres in the Philippines to avail of refugee status abroad — later to return with great sadness in their eyes. A State signatory to the treaty shall not expel a refugee who is lawfully staying in their territory, save on grounds of national security or public order. In the event of expulsion, after the observance of due process, the expelling State shall allow the refugee a reasonable period within which to seek legal admission into the territory of another country. Refugee status shall not be accorded to any person if there are serious grounds to believe that: a) he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in international instruments; b) he has committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee; c) he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Refoulement, from the French verb refouler, means sending a person back to a country where he faces a threat to his life or freedom. The return or expulsion of a refugee to the frontier of a territory where the refugee’s life or freedom would be threatened because of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or because of his political opinions, shall not be allowed by a State that is a signatory to the Convention. The right against refoulement is not available to the refugee if he is a danger to the security of the country where he has taken refuge or he has been convicted by final judgment of a serious crime and constitutes a danger to the community of that country. States shall accord to refugees who lawfully enter their territory the right to choose their residence and to move freely within its territory. The refugee, likewise, if he does not possess a valid travel document, shall be issued identity papers. Signatory States shall not impose penalties on account of a refugee’s illegal entry into their State coming from the territory where his life or freedom was threatened, provided that the refugee presents himself to the authorities at the soonest possible time after having entered the territory of the State and to show cause that would justify his presence. If a person is entitled to refugee status, the State wherein he has taken refuge shall facilitate his assimilation and naturalization. To comply with this treaty standard, our Supreme Court even passed a Rule to facilitate the naturalization of refugees. Shanghai was swamped with White Russian émigrés after the Czar was dethroned in 1917. France was the escape route of the Spanish Republican Army after Gen. Francisco Franco’s victory, and the United States became the refuge of choice of Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Now we have Ukraine being missiled to smithereens for reasons that would put Orwellian logic to shame. The story of man’s exodus is an old one, as ancient as the soil. The Convention accords to refugees certain basic human rights available to all of mankind. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has, since its establishment, served as the main implementing agency for both the Convention and Protocol. The task of the UNHCR seems never-ending and oftentimes exasperating, since they often deal with human beings bearing on their shoulders the burden of war. During times of armed conflict, civilians become the favorite prey of combatants — like turkeys in a turkey shoot. Mankind may have learned how to split the atom, yet any human being, at the blink of a historical eye, could easily become a potential refugee, even if he is a citizen of the world’s most powerful nation or of good ol’ RP.