Entities sharing this good practice: Republic of the Philippines, Department of Justice-Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (DOJ-RSPPU)
Submitted by: Chief State Counsel George Ortha II
Partners: UNHCR Philippines
In March 2020, the Government of Philippine declared a public health emergency to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety measures that were instituted, such as lockdowns and restrictions on face-to-face meetings, posed challenges for asylum-seekers and refugees to lodge their applications and request necessary documents through the Department of Justice-Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (DOJ-RSPPU), the mandated body to facilitate Refugee and Stateless status determination procedures in Philippines.
To ensure that asylum procedures and protection services remain available even during public emergencies, the DOJ-RSPPU pursued discussions on preparing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). While it was drafted against the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent restrictions, the BCP was crafted to allow flexibility in, and continuation of asylum procedures and referral mechanisms that would ensure the continued access of persons of concern (POC) to protection mechanisms. The BCP, moreover, covers sections on Refugee and Stateless Status Determination, Protection, Database and Registry and Communications, and Critical Function Staff. The BCP is internal to the DOJ-RSPPU and is not publicly accessible.
As a guiding document, the DOJ-RSPPU considered the provisions of its Procedural Standards Manual (PSM) to ensure that the steps outlined in the BCP align with regular procedures under normal circumstances. As the document was drafted with public emergencies in mind, another advantage was the relationships established by the DOJ-RSPPU with partner Government agencies to ensure their readiness to assist POC. The document was complemented with the consideration of technology, equipment, and materials that allow for continued assistance in a safe working environment. The fact that POC are being included in regular programs of the State also helped in advocacy messaging, since referral agencies were already aware of the sensitivities surrounding the circumstances of POC.