UNHCR officer backs PH probe on Jolo terror suspects

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 01 2019 04:13 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2019 09:04 AM

Members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), on Thursday, comb through Mount Carmel Cathedral, site of two deadly blasts on January 27, 2019, in Jolo, Sulu. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

BANGKOK - An official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional office in Thailand is backing a full investigation into the suicide bombing in Jolo that killed 22 people, saying that terrorism is a global problem that affects many states.

Bongkot Napaumporn, protection associate at UNHCR Regional Office for South-East Asia, said the Philippine government needs to pursue the suspects in the terror bombing but advised against focusing on stateless refugees in Mindanao.

“There are 2 issues here. If there is terrorism, the government needs to eliminate and handle this issue. But also I don't want government to handle a specific group of people without proof (since) it will create more problems," she told ABS-CBN News. 

Philippine officials earlier said it is investigating claims that foreign suicide bombers were behind the bombing of a cathedral in Jolo last January 27 that left 22 dead and at least 100 hurt.

One fatality, with half of the face blown off, has not been identified by residents. DNA tests will be conducted on the corpse to help determine the identity, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier told reporters.

At least 4 persons of interest surrendered to authorities earlier this week to clarify that they had nothing to do with the bombing.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the military is looking at the involvement of the Islamic State-inspired Abu Sayyaf group in the incident.

In the interview, the UNHCR officer noted the Philippines has a long history of opening its doors to refugees starting with a wave of 800 “White Russians” who fled persecution during the Socialist Revolution of 1917 all the way to the arrival of Vietnamese “boat people” or refugees fleeing the Vietnam War.

She said the Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which grants asylum to refugees.

Napaumporn said the Philippines should not be concerned about Indonesian refugees who come to the country via the southern backdoor of being radicalized by extremists. "They are a very vulnerable people. They just want to live their lives...They are considered part of the community even though they speak Bahasa," she said.

“Inclusion is better than exclusion so that [refugees] would feel that they belong to the country,” she added.

The UNHCR has assisted at least 2,673 stateless refugees seeking asylum in the Philippines as of end-2017.