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Beyond The Islands

Filipino Hospitality, and our Long History of Opening Doors to Refugees

Filipinos are known to be hospitable. It’s an undeniable trait that seems to be ingrained into our very being. However, Filipino Hospitality extends beyond welcoming strangers into our homes during fiestas. Did you know that at multiple points in our history, the Philippines has been a safe refuge for those displaced by war and conflict?

We have a reputation around the world for being some of the most welcoming and friendliest people. In addition to that, a little known fact, even to most Filipinos, is that we actually have a long history of opening our doors to refugees.

We are not even talking about our distant past here. Did you know that just earlier this month, in September of 2021, the Philippines opened its arms to refugees fleeing the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan?

Staying Steady Where Others Waver

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. recently confirmed the arrival of the first Afghan refugees in the Philippines. “We stay steady where others waver: tonight we welcome Afghan nationals including women and kids seeking refuge,” said Locsin in a tweet.

Locsin did not disclose the total number of refugees who have arrived in the country. There is also no specific quota of refugees to be accepted. However, Locsin announced that we will only actually accept refugees on a government-to-government basis. They are doing this in the interest of safety and privacy of the refugees.

“I predict that refugees will be the next lucrative order of business, having plenty of cash in hand or in foreign bank accounts. The temptation will be resistible to help them and help oneself to them. That will never happen under this administration or in my watch,” explained Locsin.

The First to Open their Doors, Serving as a Beacon of Hope

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been monitoring the volatile situation in Afghanistan. They have called to different member states to keep their borders open for those fleeing the conflict.

As they appeal to the global community, they have actually lauded the Philippines for our prompt action and initiative to welcome the displaced Afghan nationals. Filipino Hospitality has again made the headlines. We are actually the first country in Southeast Asia to welcome those fleeing the Taliban takeover.

For his part, Gustavo Gonzales, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines, thanked the government for welcoming Afghan nationals seeking protection. In a message posted on Twitter, he described it as: “Another demonstration of the long-standing solidarity of Filipino people.”

This news of welcoming Afghan refugees is the most recent example. But did you know that during World War II, the Philippines opened its doors to Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust?

The Philippines served as a beacon of hope during this dark period in human history. We have long since enjoyed a good relationship with Israel. In fact, they have actually granted Filipinos visa-free access to their country as a gesture of gratitude.

READ: Philippine Foreign Relations Continue to Improve Amid Pandemic

A Long History of Providing Refuge

In addition, we historically have opened our doors to nine different waves of refugees fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.

As early as 1923, we welcomed to our shores the first wave of “White Russians” (i.e. Russians fleeing persecution from the “Red Russians” who supported the Socialist Revolution of 1917). After the Jewish refugees, we welcomed Spanish Republicans fleeing the end of their Civil War in 1939.

Then came Chinese refugees escaping the newly-formed People’s Republic of China in 1940. After that, a second wave of White Russians in 1947. Finally, Vietnamese refugees escaping the Vietnam War in 1975 up to 1992.

We also welcomed Iranian refugees in 1979. Refugees from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam escaping regime changes in their home countries between 1980 to 1994 found safe haven here. And then the East Timorese, who were given temporary protection during their struggle for independence in the year 2000.

And finally, in 2015, we welcomed Rohingya refugees fleeing conflict in Myanmar. All of these provide clear examples to the world of the true meaning of Filipino Hospitality.

Solidifying our Reputation as a Kind, Compassionate People

The UNHCR has long lauded the Philippines for this strong humanitarian tradition. Yasser Saad, UNHCR Philippines’ Head of Office, said that Filipinos “seem to to naturally and intuitively understand and empathize with people who have been uprooted from their homes by war, conflict, violence, persecution, and calamities.” He notes that Filipinos are some of the most compassionate people, whose actions “for the vulnerable and the displaced go beyond the bare minimum.”

It’s amazing how little the general public knows about these numerous instances of us opening our doors to refugees. If anything, this is definitely a source of pride for Filipinos. This solidifies our place in the history of all of humanity, as a kind and compassionate people. Filipino Hospitality means we embrace all and look after each other – that’s just the Filipino way.

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