DFA: ‘Mission accomplished’ as Syria waives all exit visa requirements for 255 OFWs
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said that Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario was able to successfully negotiate for the waiver of exit visa requirements for 225 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) housed in the embassy in Syria.
“Mission accomplished. Upon Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario’s representation, Syrian government has waived all exit visa requirements for all 255 OFWs now sheltered in the embassy to facilitate their immediate return to Manila,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said in a text message from Syria.
“I will be left behind to continue coordinating efforts with my opposite number in the Foreign Ministry to implement what has been discussed during the meeting between the Secretary and Syrian Foreign Minister Muallem [Tuesday] here in Damascus,” Seguis added in the text message.
Seguis and del Rosario left for Syria Monday night to coordinate with the Syrian officials for the immediate repatriation of OFWs amid the increasing violence in the area.
Seguis said that del Rosario would be leaving Syria Wednesday night and would be back in Manila by Thursday afternoon.
Last July, Seguis also left for Damascus and was able to cut a deal with the Syrian government when it agreed to waive the exit visa fees, penalties, and requirements for 140 Filipino workers who were brought home last July 30 to August 1. In a statement, the DFA said the deal saved the government more than $100,000.
Request for waiver for remaining OFWs in Syria
In a separate statement, the DFA said that del Rosario met with Syrian Foreign Minister al-Moallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous and Ambassador Suleiman Saraa, the Chief of Asia Department, to discuss the Philippine government’s problems in repatriating OFWs from Syria.
It noted that del Rosario made a request that the same exemptions from exit visa fees and requirements granted in favor of 200 OFWs last August be given to the remaining 1,300 OFWs who have expressed their desire for repatriation.
It said that del Rosario made a proposal for the Syrian government to allow the repatriation of the OFWs in the shelter first and continue on with the coordination between the Philippine embassy and the Syrian government for the repatriation of the 1,300 OFWs. A list of the OFWs housed in the shelter, as well as those 1,300 who had wished to be repatriated, were given to the Saraa.
“After the meeting and upon his return to the Embassy, the Secretary immediately received a phone call from Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous, informing the Secretary of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s orders to waive the exit visa requirements for all the OFWs in the shelter, immediately and without preconditions,” it noted.
It said that del Rosario also met with Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, Presidential Adviser for Political and Media Affairs, who made a promise “to do her best in working with the Philippines, even behind closed doors. Shaaban also assured del Rosario that she would make a call for the Syrian Foreign Minister to accommodate the requests.
In the meeting with Shaaban, del Rosario noted that they also needed help in the repatriation of about 2,400 Filipinos who are known to have been deployed in Syria, but had not expressed their intention to return to the Philippines.
Del Rosario said that though the said OFWs were staying in Syria legally, most of them were illegally-recruited from the Philippines and could be considered as victims of human trafficking.
Lists of all the OFWs housed in the embassy’s shelter, the OFWs actively-seeking repatriation but were not in the embassy’s shelter, and a list of the OFWs known to be deployed in Syria based on the database of the embassy, the Immigration Directorate, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor were handed to the Syrian official.
Binay welcomes granting of waiver of exit permits
Vice President Jejomar Binay, in a separate statement released Wednesday, welcomed the decision of the Syrian government to waive the exit permits for the 255 OFWs but warned that the persistent demand for refund from employers was hampering efforts to bring home all the OFWs in Syria.
Binay, in the statement, noted that Syrian employers were demanding around $8,000 to $10,000 to sign the exit permits for the OFWs when it cost them only $2,000 to employ an OFW.
“It’s a good thing the Syrian government agreed to waive the other taxes. The employers are the only problem,” Binay said in Filipino.
Binay noted that the Philippine government has so far spent a total of $3 million for the repatriation of OFWs from war-torn Syria.
As of Wednesday, 2,124 OFWs have been repatriated from the conflict-stricken country.
A mandatory repatriation and a deployment ban have been implemented in Syria since they were declared under Crisis Alert Level 4 on December 2011.
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