Duterte 'willing to accept' Rohingya refugees

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — President Rodrigo Duterte has called the Rohingya crisis a "genocide" and offered the refugees a home in the country.

"I'm willing to accept refugees. Rohingyas, yes," Duterte said in a speech on Thursday.

Without naming Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Duterte called the leader his "friend."

"Kaibigan ko pa naman yung babae (The female leader is my friend)," he said. "Pero the way, it's being presented to the world, kawawa talaga ang mga tao doon (I really pity the people there)."

The Rohingya is a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State. More than 680,000 of them have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since August 2017, an exodus which the United Nations called the "world's fastest-growing refugee crisis."

Myanmar's military has repeatedly denied claims it was deliberately attacking the Rohingya civilians, insisting instead that it was combating a terrorist insurgency in the province.

Suu Kyi, meanwhile, has drawn international criticism for her perceived silence on the army's supposed crackdown on the Rohingya.

Duterte in a January speech recalled telling Suu Kyi, "Do not mind the human rights (groups). They're just a noisy bunch actually.'"

READ: Duterte to Suu Kyi: Don't mind human rights critics

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, a democracy icon, has been stripped of a number of prestigious awards amid allegations of indifference to the supposed ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

The UN Refugee Agency said there have been "nine waves of refugees" in the Philippines since the 1900s, the most recent in 2000, where the government gave temporary protection to 600 East Timorese refugees during their country's struggle for independence from Indonesia.

In 2015, the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III also offered refuge to thousands of Rohingya refugees who were then stranded on boats in the hope of finding a place that would take them in.