MANILA (UPDATE) — The United States' proposal for the Philippines to temporarily host Afghans refugees is still being evaluated, Press Secretary Cheloy Garafil said Friday, as a couple of senators raise their concerns on the proposal.
Garafil was commenting on Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo's statement that the request was made by US President Joe Biden during President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr's US visit in May.
"It's a request from the United States government. The request is currently under evaluation," Garafil told Palace reporters.
Manalo and Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez earlier in the day confirmed to senators that the US government sent a formal letter to the Philippine Embassy in October 2022.
The letter requested the government to allow Afghans and their families who had worked for the US government to enter the Philippines and be provided with temporary housing while waiting for their special immigrant visa.
Around 50,000 to 60,000 Afghans are still waiting for their special immigrant visas, Romualdez said during a Senate inquiry on the matter.
Sen. Imee Marcos said the Philippines' doors are open for refugees or those who evacuated from their respective countries because of danger.
But the senator said this is not the case for the thousands of Afghan nationals that the US is asking to be given temporary shelter in the Philippines, while their special immigrant visas are being processed.
The lawmaker said it was unclear during the Senate inquiry what the exact status of the Afghans will be once they arrive in the country.
"Hindi natin kinukwestyon pag refugee, talagang okay. Apat pa nga ang nag-apply na Afghan mula 2021... Parating open door, parang open arms welcome ang Pilipinas sa lahat ng pinagtatabuyan sa mundo," Marcos told reporters at the sidelines of the Senate probe.
"Pero ang klaro ay... hindi refugee itong mga Afghan na darating. Kaya pinangangambahan ng ating security groups na baka maging target ang Pilipinas ng mga kagalit or kaugnay ng Al Qaeda, ng Taliban. Alam naman natin, may pro-ISIS factions sa rebels sa Mindanao kayat importante na nagkakaintindihan tayo at alam natin ang pangamba ng bawat sektor," she added.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian had said he sees the need to investigate the matter and be briefed in full about the United States' request.
US and allied forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021 to end America's longest war, launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Tens of thousands of Afghans fled their country in the chaotic evacuation of August 2021.
Many of those who had worked with the ousted Western-backed government arrived in the United States seeking resettlement under a special immigrant visa program.
But thousands were also left behind, waiting for their visas to be processed.
— with a report from Agence France-Presse