History 101: How the Philippines Became a Safe Harbor for Refugees

Here’s a quick history lesson about the strength of Filipinos’ hospitality.

By Mathew S. Chan
October 27, 2015


In times of war and crisis, people flee their countries and escape to others, seeking asylum or becoming refugees to start a new life. You’d think the Philippines would be the last place refugees would go to, especially if they’re from faraway countries, but history shows we have served as a safe haven for plenty of them. Below is a list of people who have gone to the Philippines during crises and how Filipinos welcomed them with open arms.

1. Japanese Christians in 1614
During the 1600s, Christians and other foreign missionaries were stationed in Japan. They were tolerated by Japanese officials due to the trade benefits, but when Japan was unified, the missionaries were driven out of the country and the citizens were forced to choose between renouncing their faith and being executed. According to Filipiknow.net, Don Justo Takayama Ukon, a shogunate subordinate, decided to flee Japan with his family along with 300 other Japanese Christians. Spanish officials accepted them, and they eventually settled in Dilao, Paco, Manila.

2. White Russians in 1949
White Russians were the faction in Russia who were opposed to the Communist rule (Red Russians). After the Russian Civil War, they were forced to leave Russia and ended up in parts of China. When China was on the brink of total invasion by the Communist party, the International Refugee Organization (IRO) decided to help the Russians, but no country responded. A Rappler.com article reports, “Only the Philippines under President Elpidio Quirino gave them sanctuary.” Quirino offered to convert the island of Tubabao in Eastern Samar to a refugee camp, and in 1949, over 5,000 refugees arrived and stayed in a span of around 27 months until they were able to transfer to other countries.

3. Holocaust Jews in the 1938
When the Holocaust first broke out in the late 1930s, two American Jewish businessmen, the Frieder brothers, devised a plan to help their brethren out. No country would touch the Jews due to fear of the Nazis, but according to Filipiknow.net, the Frieder brothers were friends and poker buddies with President Manuel L. Quezon who agreed to help out the Jews. Quezon then launched his “Open Door” policy, and some 1,200 Jews arrived in Manila. There is an “Open Doors” monument in Israel’s Rishon Lezion Memorial Park that commemorates Quezon’s heroic actions.
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