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Most of OFWs won’t leave Syria—DFA chief

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario

Most of the 17,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in war-torn Syria are refusing to come home despite the mounting violence because of the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines, according to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

“Apparently, the OFWs feel safe” in the troubled Middle East country despite reports that more than 5,000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces during the nine-month uprising, Del Rosario, who has just returned from an official trip to Damascus, told a press conference Wednesday.

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The foreign secretary said he had “talked to about 25 leaders of the Filipino community [in Syria] and not a single one of them wanted to be repatriated.”

Del Rosario flew to Syria last Saturday  to personally oversee the operations to evacuate Filipino nationals there.

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Crises alert level

Three weeks ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised the crisis alert level in Syria from 3 to 4 because of the escalating violence in the country. Crisis alert level 4 calls for the mandatory evacuation of distressed OFWs from a particular country at government expense.

However, majority of the OFWs in Syria have ignored the government offer. According to Del Rosario, the reason given was that there were no economic opportunities in the Philippines, the same one given by the thousands of OFWs in Libya who opted to remain in the North African nation during the eight-month-long uprising against the late Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last year.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there’s possible harm that may come to them, they choose to stay in Syria because of the economic opportunities offered there,” Del Rosario said.

The OFWs “feel if they have good employers, these employers would protect them. They don’t particularly feel threatened, none of them were anxious to be repatriated,” he explained.

‘Happy where they are’

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“I think the people who opted to stay are happy where they are. The people who are coming home are generally unhappy with their employers,” Del  Rosario said.

“Their safety is consistent with the manner their employers take care of them. If the employers like them, their employers will take care of them; but otherwise, they will opt to come home,” he said.

Del Rosario said the DFA remained “fully committed to ensure the safety and welfare of our OFWs in Syria.” He said it has fielded more people from Philippine embassies in nearby countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to help in the processing and repatriation of the OFWs in Syria.

Last weekend, the DFA repatriated another 56 OFWs from Syria, bringing to 490 the total number evacuated from there.

According to DFA estimates, about $4,000 is needed for the repatriation of each OFW from Syria.

Originally posted: 12:52 pm | Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

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TAGS: Foreign affairs, Labor, Overseas Filipino workers, Syria, Trafficking in Persons
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