MANILA, Philippines–The Department of Foreign Affairs has repatriated another 43 overseas Filipino workers from Syria, bringing to 1,206 the total number of OFWs evacuated by the DFA from the strife-torn Middle East country. Thirty-nine of the repatriates were scheduled to arrive at 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday (April 4) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on board a Philippine Airlines flight. Four others were taking an Emirates Airlines flight later in the day.
Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson, said “seven of the repatriates were from Homs, one of the cities worst hit by the ongoing violence in Syria, while the rest came from Damascus.”
“The OFWs were pulled out from the conflict areas by personnel of the Philippine embassy (in the Syrian capital) and our rapid response team,” he also said.
According to Hernandez, “the plane tickets of the 39 repatriates were paid for by the International Organization for Migration while the rest were shouldered by the government.” “We are grateful that IOM is giving us a helping hand in our repatriation efforts. The organization’s resources have provided support for our government’s continuing efforts to bring home distressed Filipinos in strife-torn Syria,” he said.
He noted the IOM “has been providing assistance to foreign migrant workers caught in armed conflicts and disasters worldwide as part of its mandate.”
In December, the DFA raised Alert Level 4 – which calls for mandatory evacuation – for Philippine nationals based in Syria.
According to Hernandez, the DFA would continue its repatriation efforts “for as long as necessary as the violence in Syria remains unabated.”
The foreign office is “also renewing its call on the OFWs’ family members and relatives in the Philippines to assist in the repatriation efforts by providing information on the whereabouts of their loved ones and their contact details in Syria,” he said.
Earlier, the DFA said many OFWs in Syria were finally availing of the government’s free repatriation program.
From only 200-plus in February, some 1,000 OFWs have applied for inclusion in the repatriation program.
The new applicants include OFWs marooned in dire conditions in Homs and other protest hubs in Syria, disclosed Hernandez. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said the repatriation of Filipinos from Syria was “no easy feat.”
He explained “repatriation involves negotiating with employers for their release, including buying out their contracts, dealing with immigration officials and paying their fines and in some cases being met with the challenges of having to extract them from areas considered as no man’s land.”
The DFA head also said that unlike the United States embassy in Damascus, the Philippine mission would remain open “as long as we have OFWs there that need help.”
Majority of the remaining 9,000 OFWs in Syria have ignored the government’s offer, prompting the DFA to intensify its efforts to reach out to them and convince them to leave the country.