Escalating violence in Syria makes evacuation difficult—DFA
MANILA, Philippines—The escalating violence in Syria makes it more difficult to repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday.
“It has always been challenging to repatriate but of course when there is more violence and unrest then it becomes difficult to repatriate people, to seek them to go places where we could talk to their employers and do some arrangements with the government,” Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson, said in an interview with reporters.
The Philippine government banned Filipinos from working in Syria and ordered a mandatory evacuation of its nationals there in December, some 10 months after an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad broke out.
More than 15,800 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising broke out in March 2011, including nearly 4,700 since April 12, when a UN-backed ceasefire was supposed to have taken effect.
Out of about 8,000 to 9,000 Filipinos known to be in Syria, some 1,700 have already been successfully repatriated, the DFA said.
Hernandez said that a high 90 percent of Filipinos there were undocumented, making the evacuation effort more difficult.
“The challenge is really trying to find our people in Syria because they are undocumented and secondly negotiating with their employers because many of them have not finished their contracts and therefore we have to pay for the deployment cost,” he said.
Hernandez also said that booking of airline seats for Filipinos was difficult since there were fewer airlines that continue to fly to Syria.
He said that despite the challenges, the Philippine Embassy in Damascus has maintained good coordination with the Syrian government and the leaders of Filipino communities to fulfil its mandate of keeping Filipino’s out of harm’s way.
“We are now processing about 1,000 Filipinos for repatriation so we are looking at this as a continuing program especially now that the violence has escalated,” he added.
The hotline number of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus is 00-963-116-132626. Families may also send an e-mail to: [email protected] In Manila, the hotline numbers of the DFA for families of Filipinos based in Syria are: 834-3245 and 834-3240.
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