- Palestinian living in PH for 37 years took his oath as citizen
- He is only the seventh refugee to be naturalized as a Filipino
- He expressed happiness at becoming a citizen, disclosed his immediate plans for himself and family
MANILA, Philippines – Congratulations, kabayan!
Maher Mohammad Al Raee, a 64-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the Philippines for 37 years, is now a bonafide citizen of the Republic after taking his oath before Las Piñas Regional Trial Court Judge Ismael Duldulao last January 25.
“Of course, I am crying,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer after his oath-taking. “Out of happiness, of course.”
For Al Raee, this event marked the culmination of his long-desired dream of becoming a Filipino citizen.
The erstwhile Palestinian, whose family fled Gaza Strip during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and settled in Yemen, first came to the Philippines as a student in 1980. After leaving briefly, he then returned and settled for good in 1990.
“I was supposed to take my Masters but, accidentally, I had a wife, and accidentally, I had children,” the good-natured Al Raee quipped.
Then in December 2010, Al Raee applied for naturalization after belatedly learning that he was eligible. Four years later, his application was approved after proving through trial that he had definitely become assimilated into Filipino culture. After that, he had to undergo a two-year probation.
During this period, Al Raee consistently displayed good behavior; having spearheaded relief operations in 2013 in Tacloban City in Leyte (his wife hails from the province) in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.
“I went there three times, we took a truck and other vehicles, we were in the ferry for 24 hours. When I came there, it reeked of the dead,” Al Raee said. “I helped because in my mind, they’re family. My family. You just help, and that will come back to you twofold.”
Four years prior, Al Raee had also distributed rice to victims of Tropical Ondoy in Manila.
Having gone through the lengthy naturalization process, Al Raee revealed that he will apply for a passport so he can take his family to a well-deserved vacation.
“I will get a Philippine passport … I’ll bring my family to Singapore … go on a trip … for a happy family,” he said.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Manila, Al Raee is the only the seventh refugee to be granted Filipino citizenship. The previous six were four Iranians and two Palestinians.
Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo UNHCR assistant protection officer, said they hope the country — a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention — can someday ease the naturalization process for refugees.
“In UNHCR, we have been advocating all over the world for signatory states such as the Philippines to allow facilitated naturalization. Facilitated means that refugees, as well as stateless persons, should be given an opportunity to be able to ease up the process of being able to acquire citizenship,” she said.