164 OFWs in dangerous areas in Syria to be evacuated—DFA
MANILA, Philippines—The government is set to evacuate 164 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based in Homs and three other protest hubs in Syria, where “violence has become very alarming,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesman, said on Sunday they had “a total of 278 repatriation applicants from the four conflict areas and 222 of these were from Homs,” a city in central Syria.
“We have already repatriated 114, leaving 164 other OFWs awaiting evacuation from the Syrian cities,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez added that the Philippine Embassy in Damascus has been “working on the instruction of (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario to fully and effectively implement Crisis Alert Level 4 (mandatory or forced repatriation) due to the security situation in Syria.”
Del Rosario, meanwhile, disclosed they were set to activate the DFA’s “rapid response team” to help distressed OFWs in the Middle East country.
“Based on new developments in Homs, we may need to go one step further and resort to a strategy of extraction,” Del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
According to the DFA chief, the rapid response team will be “made up of personnel from the Philippine National Police, Department of Labor and Employment and the DFA.”
“So rather than reduce the operating teams to help our distressed nationals, we are expanding to do what is necessary,” said Del Rosario.
He noted that “from our recent official visit to Damascus, we had anticipated a probable escalation of violence which resulted in our bringing in an additional team of negotiators to focus on mandatory repatriation.”
Del Rosario also said that unlike the United States embassy in the Syrian capital, the Philippine mission would remain open “as long as we have OFWs that need help.”
“We have no plans of closing…Our embassy will continue to operate as mandated by President Aquino,” he added.
Last week, another 76 OFWs availed themselves of the DFA’s free repatriation program, bringing to 868 the total number of Philippine nationals flown back to Manila from Syria since March 2011.
Majority of the remaining 9,000 OFWs in that country 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.
Zero Filipino casualties
No Filipinos were killed or injured in the latest and deadliest crackdown on protests by Syrian security forces, said the embassy.
At least 400 people were killed in a six-day onslaught on Homs by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, said an Agence France-Presse report, quoting opposition activists.
On Thursday alone, over 80 people were killed across Syria, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The latest assault on Homs began on Monday with unprecedented barrages of rockets, mortar rounds and artillery shells, said an Agence France-Presse report.
Activists in Homs said the widespread shelling was a clear bid to pave the way for a ground assault on the Syrian city.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has accused the Syrian army of appalling brutality, after the deaths of more civilians, including infants.
He feared the violence would worsen as he also expressed regret that Syrian authorities continue to ignore calls to stop using violence against civilians.
Some 6,000 people have died in the uprising, according to the UN.
Syria blamed the latest bloodshed on terrorist gangs allegedly using mortars.
The violence comes as Western powers seek new ways to punish Syria amid growing outrage over last week’s veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad government for its nearly 11-month crackdown on dissent.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the veto a “travesty.”
For his part, White House spokesperson Jay Carney warned Syria’s allies that backing Assad was a “losing bet.”
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