MANILA – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday that a request for his country to temporarily host a U.S. immigrant visa processing center for thousands of Afghan nationals faces security and other concerns but is still being considered by his administration.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken first relayed the request to his Philippine counterpart last year, and President Joe Biden discussed the request when Marcos visited the United States in May, Philippine officials said.
The full details of the request, which remains under negotiations between the treaty allies, have not been made public, but Marcos said he was told by American officials that only a maximum of 1,000 Afghan nationals would be allowed to stay in the Philippines at any one time while their special immigrant visas are being processed.
A Philippine official said an initial 600 Afghan nationals would be allowed in a “pilot phase” if the U.S. proposal gets approved. The proposal was still being discussed by national security, law enforcement, foreign affairs and other Philippine agencies before submitting a recommendation to Marcos, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.
The Afghan nationals to be considered for resettlement primarily worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan or were deemed eligible for U.S. special immigrant visas but were left behind when Washington withdrew from the country as Taliban militants took back power in a chaotic period in August 2021.
“We want to help,” Marcos said in answer to a question at a news conference. But, he said, there are security concerns and “even more difficult legal and logistical issues because if the plan as it stands runs exactly as it’s planned, that’s nice, we won’t have any problem. But what plan ever ran exactly as you had hoped?”
“It’s entirely possible that we will not find a way to make it happen," he added.
Some Filipino officials have expressed fears the Afghan nationals could become targets of attacks while in the Philippines. Others raised legal questions about an arrangement where U.S. authorities would have a say in vetting who could enter the Philippines.
One prospective problem is what to do with Afghan nationals whose U.S. special visa immigrant application is indefinitely stalled or rejected, Marcos said.
"We'll continue to study it and see if there is a way we can do it without endangering the security of the Philippines,” Marcos said, expressing concern that thousands of Afghan nationals could be stranded in the country while awaiting relocation to the U.S.
"While it’s been stated that the Americans will pay for everything, who will handle all of that?” Marcos asked.
Marcos has rekindled relations with the U.S. since taking power in June last year. In February, he allowed an expansion of the American military presence under a 2014 defense agreement in a decision that China warned would allow American forces to gain a staging ground to intervene in the South China Sea and Taiwan issues, and threaten regional stability.
Marcos' predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, was one of the most vocal critics of U.S. security policies in his time, while nurturing relations with China and Russia. Duterte took steps, which he later withdrew, to abrogate a key security agreement with the U.S. that allowed large numbers of American forces to enter the Philippines for combat exercises.