DOJ issues rules on refugees, stateless persons

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2012 02:42 PM | Updated as of Oct 22 2012 10:42 PM

MANILA - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has come up with the rules on "Establishing the Refugee and Stateless Status Determination Procedure" in keeping with its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.

Issuing Department Circular No. 058 on Oct. 18, Justice Sec. Leila De Lima has renamed the DOJ's Refugee Protection Unit (RPU) to Refugee and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU) "to ensure that this highly vulnerable group of refugees and stateless persons will have access to a facilitated, prompt and efficient process application for the granting of a refugee or a stateless status.

"The refugees and the stateless persons are the most vulnerable. They fall easily through the cracks of our system... Consider the challenge of having no government to safeguard you rights. You have no government that will ensure yours and your family's physical security ," De Lima said.

Under the circular, a "stateless person" is defined as one "who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law," while a "refugee" is a person who, "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence."

The circular intends to establish "a fair, speedy and non-adversarial procedure to facilitate identification, treatment and protection of refugees and stateless persons consistent with the laws, international commitments and humanitarian traditions and concerns of the Republic of the Philippines."

Pending application (for refugee status) of the applicant and/or his dependents, a refugee shall not be expelled or returned to his/her country of origin when there is reason to believe that his/her life and freedom would be threatened "on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

An applicant and/or his dependents shall not be punished for his/her illegal entry, provided that he/she immediately presents himself/herself to authorities and/or shows good cause for his/her presence in the country.

The RSPPUm which will be headed by the Chief State Counsel, may coordinate with government agencies, non-government organizations, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in order to reduce and prevent statelessness, and ensuring the protection of refugees and stateless persons.

The rules will take effect 15 days after its publication.