Philippines: Catholic Church supports decision to welcome Rohingyas fleeing persecution

Rohingya and Bangleshi migrants wait to be transported to shore, off the coast of Julok, in Aceh province, Indonesia.Reuters

The Philippines has said it is willing to welcome 3,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh, which the Catholic Church has attributed to a sense of Christian duty.

Last week more than 2,500 refugees from the Rohingya Muslim minority in Bangladesh and Myanmar landed on the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand but were pushed back out to sea. There are thought to be another 5,000 still missing. Having fled persecution and poverty at home, they now face sickness and starvation at sea.

Father Socrates Mesiona, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Philippines, welcomed his government's decision to provide assistance.

"It is our duty to welcome these people," Mesiona told Fides news agency. "If necessary, we will welcome them and will try to ensure them a decent life. They are human beings and children of God, created in the image and likeness of God."

He said the fact that they are Muslim "does not create any problem," adding "As the Gospel teaches us, we are ready to give them hospitality."

Following international pressure, Malaysia and Indonesia have said today that they will offer temporary shelter to 7,000 "boat people", but made clear they would take no more.

"What we have clearly stated is that we will take in only those people in the high sea," Malaysian Foreign MinisterAnifah Aman said. "But under no circumstances would we be expected to take each one of them if there is an influx of others."

Last week Human rights watch accused the navies of the three Asian nations of playing "a three-way game of human ping pong". Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia said: "The world will judge these governments by how they treat these most vulnerable men, women, and children."

Following a meeting with Thailand's foreign minister yesterday, Malaysia and Indonesia said in a joint statement: "The international community will be responsible in providing Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with necessary support, particularly financial assistance, to enable them to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance to the irregular migrants currently at risk."

Hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants landed in Indonesia's northwestern Aceh province early on Wednesday, an Indonesian search and rescue official said.

"I urge all NGOs, of all races and religions to step forward to volunteer to help these Rohingya migrants," Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

"Even though they are a migrant community that is trying to enter the country illegally, and breaking immigration laws, their well-being should not be ignored."

Additional reporting by Reuters