Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016, 15:14 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Philippines

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Philippines , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 21 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Philippines hosted more than 300 refugees at the end of 1998, mostly persons from Iran, Somalia, Iraq, and Sri Lanka. During the year, the Philippines became the first member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a national refugee status determination procedure.

At the end of the year, an estimated 122,000 Filipinos were internally displaced and 45,000 Filipino refugees remained in Malaysia.

In 1998, the last Vietnamese refugee camp in the Philippines was closed.

The Asylum Program

On March 4, through a Justice Department order, the Philippines became the first ASEAN country to establish a formal asylum adjudication system. The new "procedure for processing applications for the grant of refugee status" became effective March 10, thereby codifying the Philippines' obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. "Through this encouraging development," said UNHCR, "a major long-standing objective of UNHCR in the Philippines has been achieved." The order incorporates into domestic law the Convention principles of nonrefoulement, exemption from penalties for illegal entry, and respect for family unity.

To implement the order, the Philippines established a refugee processing unit within the Department of Justice. UNHCR provided refugee law training to the unit's members. Persons granted refugee status are granted Alien Certificates of Residence.

Under the new system, the Philippines approved three asylum cases (nine persons) and rejected five. At the end of the year, 17 cases were pending.


On April 1, the Philippines closed its last Vietnamese refugee camp, the Philippine Refugee Transit Center in Pasay City. As a result, the remaining 25 Vietnamese refugees became part of the "urban refugees" assisted by UNHCR. The camp closure, said UNHCR, "is tantamount to turning a historic page, as for the first time in over twenty years there are no refugee camps in the Philippines." The 25 remaining refugees had resettlement applications pending with New Zealand and the United States.

Some 1,500 Vietnamese who were "screened-out" (determined not to be refugees under the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees ) remained in the Philippines at the end of 1998. The Philippines was the only Southeast Asian country to permit screened-out Vietnamese to remain after the CPA ended in 1996. The non-refugees remaining at year's end were either self-sufficient or were being assisted by the Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons, an NGO.

In permitting the Vietnamese to remain, the Philippines said it would continue to promote voluntary repatriation. In 1998, 21 Vietnamese voluntarily repatriated.

Another 262 Vietnamese whom the United States initially agreed to admit through its Orderly Departure Program also remained in the Philippines. They refused to return to Vietnam after the U.S. government revoked their entry visas for various reasons, primarily fraud.

Internal Displacement

At the end of the year, approximately 20,740 families (estimated to be 122,820 persons) were internally displaced in the Philippines. The predominant cause of displacement was armed conflict between the Philippine government and insurgent forces. Other causes included clan or tribal wars.

The Philippines accepts responsibility for displaced persons, and national and local government agencies have been charged with assisting them. However, the government provides little real assistance to the uprooted. Although NGOs and religious groups provide some assistance, they have few resources.

During the 1980s, conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People's Army (NPA), an insurgent group associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, displaced thousands of civilians. The conflict largely ended in the early 1990s, but many people remained displaced in Manila and other urban centers, often subsisting in what have become semi-permanent slums.

In recent years, most displacement has resulted from conflict between the AFP and Muslim insurgents, particularly on Mindanao, one of the three largest islands in the Philippine archipelago.

The main Muslim insurgent groups have been the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF split from the MNLF in 1978 after the latter changed its goal from independence to autonomy.

In 1998, Joseph Estrada replaced Fidel Ramos as Philippine president. Both before and after the transition, government negotiations with the MILF suffered setbacks. At the end of the year, tensions remained high, with Estrada insisting that a separate Islamic state in the Philippines would occur "over my dead body." He also warned, "We will meet violence with violence."

Reports in December also indicated that thousands of MNLF members had defected to the MILF because of Nur Misuari's failure to meet their expectations.

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