MANILA, Aug 28, 2009 (AFP) - The Philippines on Friday offered emergency transit facilities on its territory for refugees in a novel arrangement signed with the UN and an aid agency, the latter said.
The agreement was the first formal document of its kind, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a co-signatory with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
It will offer safe passage for refugees "who risk being sent back to countries from which they have fled or who need to transit in another country, pending the processing of their cases and their subsequent resettlement in a third country," IOM said in a statement.
Under the agreement, IOM will provide transport to and within the Philippines for the refugees, as well as onward transport to resettlement countries.
It will also provide medical screening on arrival and prior to departure, as well as cultural orientation to prepare the refugees for their new lives in their country of destination.
"This agreement will result in better protection for refugees in high risk situations, who can now be evacuated to the safety of the Philippines and processed, prior to their permanent resettlement in a third country," said Bruce Reed of the IOM Manila office.
The Philippines foreign office said in a statement that it is a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and "has a long-standing commitment to assist the UNHCR in addressing the plight of refugees".
It said the country "has served occasionally as a temporary safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers not only from Asia, but also from various parts of the globe.
"Philippine refugee centres and policy framework towards assisting the UNHCR have been recognised as models internationally," it added.
The Philippines, which provided military bases for US forces who fought in the Vietnam War, later operated transit facilities for Vietnamese who fled their country by boat.
Some of the boatpeople who chose not to be repatriated or did not gain entry to resettlement countries were eventually given residency status in the Philippines.