MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is unable to permanently resettle refugees from Australian-run detention camps as it attempts to provide for its own people, President Benigno Aquino III said Tuesday.
Aquino said his government is seriously studying an Australian proposal that it accept refugees now in Australian-run camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, but there are limitations to what it can do as a developing county.
Australia refuses to accept refugees who attempt to reach its shores by boat.
Aquino noted that the Philippines agreed to host Indochinese refugees after the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s with the understanding that it would only be a transit point. But it was swamped with hundreds of thousands who stayed for 15 years, including some who became permanent residents, he said.
“I think Australia can recognize that we do have a significantly bigger population than they do,” he said. “We have challenges to meeting the needs of our people right now. We would want to assist but there are limitations as to how far we can assist.”
“If this proposed agreement … is not one of just being a transit point but actually relocating these people here, we think we are not in a capacity at this point in time to afford a permanent residency to these people,” he added.
Australia has a multi-million dollar deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees from an Australia-run detention camp on the Pacific nation of Nauru. But only four refugees have so far taken up the offer of cash, free health insurance and accommodation to move from Nauru to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. That has prompted critics to dub the deal an expensive flop and has sent the government looking for another solution.
Following reports of talks to relocate the refugees, Sarah Hanson-Young, a senator with the minor Greens party, has said Australia was once again passing its responsibility to care for refugees on to another poor country.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing Philippine group Bayan, said it was “shameful” for a wealthy nation like Australia to refuse the refugees and instead relocate them in a developing country like the Philippines.