Opening doors to Rohingyas, Christian thing to do, bishop tells Filipinos

(Photo: REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun)Rohingya Muslims attend a wrestling festival at Kyaukpannu village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state, June 6, 2014. Since international aid groups were forced out of the Rakhine area in February and March, members of the minority Muslim Rohingya community who relied on them say basic health care services have all but disappeared. Worst affected are those in Northern Rakhine State (NRS), home to most of Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya who are stalked by sickness and malnourishment and as yet untouched by reforms under a semi-civilian government which took power in 2011.

A Filipino bishop has reminded his faithful to keep to their Christian duty of providing help to those who are in need as the Philippines has opened its doors to Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo reiterated the appeal issued by Pope Francis when the pontiff appealed to European countries to welcome refugees fleeing Libya, Iraq, and Syria, among other areas.

Pabillo said May 22 it is the moral obligation of Filipinos to try and alleviate the plight of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar for their safety after suffering persecution from Buddhist extremists.

"We should accept these people. Turning them away is as good as giving them the death sentence. We cannot afford to do that," Pabillo said over the church-run Radio Veritas.

He noted that opening the country's doors to Rohingyas is an act of compassion to those who sought asylum. He also recalled that the Philippines is not a stranger to taking in refugees fleeing conflict areas.

He cited the country's role during the height of the Vietnam War, when hundreds of Vietnamese fled their country in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Perhaps we can ask help from the U.N. [United Nations] just like what we did before when we hosted Vietnamese refugees. Because of our assistance, they were able to rebuild their lives," Pabillo said.

"In fact, many of them prospered. Eventually, they moved someplace else. But we served them well both materially and spiritually," he said.

The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines earlier emphasized the country's "moral obligation" to provide shelter for the needy, especially to refugees whose lives are at risk as they travel the high seas.

"While it may be true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that of any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from," said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.

"There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them. And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas," he added.

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