Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Appreciating the Refugee Problem

I understand and appreciate the plight of refugees who are now flooding Europe and other countries. My appreciation comes first, from personal experience; second, as a student of US history; and third, from a substantive knowledge and interest of the necessary and unavoidable effects of wars, conflicts, terror, and oppression.


I was a refugee – recognized and registered by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees). So was my wife Tina Manglapus Maynigo, my eldest daughter Tanya, and cousin Prepedigna Maynigo Bugayong.

In the 1970s, we had to escape from the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos via kumpit  (pump boat) traveling to and staying in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia for about four (4) months. Escaping with us was a Tausog family (Muslim from Sitangkay, Tawi-Tawi Island, Philippines) who was also avoiding political persecution. Gerry Jumat, Boots Ayson Jumat and children Lara and Wally were also refugees.

Disguised as Muslim barter traders and chased by armed pirates, we braved the high seas protected by Muslim soldiers armed with sub-machine guns. Taken care of initially by the Tawau Catholic Church, some Muslim contacts, the Malaysian Home Affairs and the Red Crescent, we were eventually paroled into the US after being officially recognized as UN refugees.

Philippine Refugees – Boat People

The route that we took, the disguise, the contacts, the Malaysian and UN connections became the official trail followed subsequently by noted Filipino refugees who played important roles in the eventual downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. Worth mentioning are Colonel Boni Gillego and Dr. Gasty Ortigas. The former was the person who helped then Senators Ninoy Aquino and Gene Magsaysay expose the “Jabidah Massacre”. He also exposed Marcos as a fake hero and his fake war medals. He eventually became Governor and Congressman upon return from exile.

Dr. Gasty Ortigas became Senator Raul Manglapus’ and the Movement for a Free Philippines’ Executive Director. He also became the President of the well renowned Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

We were the equivalent Philippine refugees of the Indo-Chinese “Boat People” during the period.

American History

Since the pilgrims fled religious persecution, America has been a charitable host to refugees coming to our shores. The refugees have been mostly from around the world.  They have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict, and war.

America’s kindness to those in need can be found not just in its citizens’ hearts and minds but also in its commitment by legislative fiat. Let me quote this note on the History of US Refugee Resettlement:

The U.S. Congress enacted the first refugee legislation in 1948 following the admission of more than 250,000 displaced Europeans from World War II. This legislation provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans in the coming years. Later laws provided for admission of persons fleeing Communism, largely from China, Hungary, Korea, Poland and Yugoslavia, and in the 1960s, Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime. Most of these waves of refugees were assisted by American ethnic- and religious-based not-for-profit organizations, which formed the base for today’s vibrant public-private partnership in U.S. refugee resettlement efforts.

“With the fall of Saigon in April of 1975, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. As a result, Congress passed The Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized federally supported resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the United States. This Act incorporates the definition of "refugee" used in the U.N. Refugee Convention and provides for regular and emergency admission of refugees of all nationalities. The Refugee Act provided the legal basis for the establishment of The Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than three million refugees. Most come from Vietnam or the former Soviet Union, although more than 70 nationalities are represented. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980, to a low of 27,100 the year following September 11, 2001. Seventy thousand refugees were admitted in both 2013 and 2014.”

I am proud to having been a refugee, either as a Filipino or as an American. Included in this pride is the knowledge that a number of prominent American citizens were refugees, namely: Albert Einstein and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.

As President Barack Obama said, “The ordeals refugees survive and the aspirations they hold resonate with us as Americans. This country was built by people who fled oppression and war, leapt at opportunity, and worked day and night to remake themselves in this new land.”

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