MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has intensified efforts to bring home more of the estimated 3,000 Filipinos remaining in conflict-stricken Syria despite the challenges complicated by the worsening security situation.
DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said 41 Filipinos arrived in Manila Tuesday afternoon, bringing to 4,741 the total number flown home from the troubled Arab country since the Philippine government enforced a mandatory repatriation in December 2011.
Hernandez conceded that the efforts were being hampered by the difficulty in locating and extracting the Filipinos known to still be in Syria.
“The fighting has intensified in many areas, that’s why it’s so difficult for people to go to our embassy in Damascus and hard for our rapid response team to go to the areas where Filipinos are,”
Hernandez also reported on Tuesday that a 29-year-old Filipino woman died of natural causes while at work in Aleppo on Sept. 7. He did not identify the woman or give the cause of death as her family in the Philippines had yet to be informed.
“She collapsed while working and was brought to a hospital but was declared dead on arrival. According to the police and coroner, the overseas Filipino worker died of natural causes and there were no signs of foul play,” Hernandez said.
“We will be informing the deceased OFW’s family here in the Philippines in due course,” he added.
Hernandez said repatriation efforts were continuing, with the Philippine government securing the assistance of the Syrian government and the International Organization on Migration (IOM).
But he said that some Filipinos still did not want to return home.
“Some are not willing… maybe because they have better-paying jobs in Syria and also because their employers have promised their safety… They have been treated like members of the family so when their employers move from one place to another, they (Filipinos) move with them,” said Hernandez.
The Filipinos are evacuated through Lebanon given the lack of exit options from Syria.
The DFA warned Filipinos still in Syria to avoid vital installations that may be “possible targets of attack,” including military and telecommunication facilities and other critical infrastructure.
The United States is bent on striking Syria for the Aug. 21 chemical attack that killed at least 1,400 people that has been blamed on President Bashar Assad.
The Philippines has not taken a position on the much debated US plan but has said that it would prioritize the safety of Filipinos in Syria.