300 Filipino domestic workers still in Syria 10 years into labor ban
MANILA, Philippines — Some 300 Filipino household service workers still remain in Syria 10 years after a deployment ban was imposed by the Philippine government, senators learned on Tuesday.
Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation, has also been in place in the war-torn country, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality during a hearing.
“In 2011, there was already a labor ban. Syria is on Alert Level 4, meaning mandatory repatriation and so far, we have around 300 Filipino household service workers who are still in the country,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said.
According to Arriola, not all of the 300 Filipinos are seeking repatriation.
“Some of them are in the homes of their sponsors, their employers,” she said.
The DFA official also informed senators that there were 34 Filipino domestic workers currently staying at the Philippine embassy shelter there while 39 others were repatriated in 2020.
Despite the Philippine government’s imposition of a deployment ban to Syria in 2011, local recruitment agents resumed recruiting Filipino household workers in 2016 “due to the improving security situation” in the Middle Eastern country, said Arriola.
While the Philippine government treats these deployments after the ban was imposed as human trafficking, she said the Syrian government views them as “legitimate since allegedly the Filipino workers posses valid deployment documents such as contracts and sometimes Iqama (residence permit) regardless of the circumstances under which they were recruited.”
“Most of these trafficking-in-persons victims had to leave the Philippines using tourists or visit visas,” Arriola said.
According to her, the victims are usually transited through the United Arab Emirates (UAE), other Gulf states, and Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia in some cases before they are brought to Syria.
“The traffickers, usually Filipinos, convince victims that they will have better working conditions in Syria than in UAE and other Gulf states,” she noted.
“Not knowing any better, the victims are made to believe the process they are taking is regular and legal,” she added.
According to Arriola, the DFA “encounters problems” in getting Filipinos out of Syria when they “decide to run away from their employers.”
These problems, she said, are due to the requirement that exit visas should first be issued by their employers before workers can be repatriated.
“The Philippine government had to previously buy out contracts of some household service workers,” she said, noting that the DFA previously had to spend $10,000 to $20,000.
Employers tend to take advantage of the fact that the Philippines was willing to buy out the contracts of Filipino domestic workers, according to her.
“The practice has been stopped and instead our Philippines embassy has commenced filing court cases against erring employers since 2019,” she said.
“Moreover, when I became undersecretary [of migrant workers affairs], I have personally called the attention of the Bureau of Immigration, I have met already with Commissioner [Jaime] Morente and the IACAT (Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking under the Department of Justice) regarding the practices happening in Syria,” Arriola added.
For its part, the BI has deferred the flights of 112,033 individuals from 2017 to 2020 on the suspicion that they are “tourist workers,” Morente told the Senate committee.
Of this number, 1,070 were referred to the IACAT by BI’s Travel Control and Enforcement Unit and the Border Control “for being possible victims of trafficking in persons.”
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