Migrante International today expressed deep concern over statements made by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that “no OFWs have sought repatriation” despite the Alert Level 3 in Syria.
DFA Spokesperson Raul Hernandez had said that OFWs “are relatively safe” while the DOLE said that “only four OFWs have availed of the government’s voluntary repatriation.”
“While we fully understand how OFWs would opt to stay despite grave danger rather than lose their jobs, we are worried that the DFA and DOLE may be wittingly or unwittingly downplaying the situation in Syria when they make such statements,” said Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez.
Martinez added that because of such reports, the DFA and DOLE are “making it appear as if they are employing all means to ensure OFWs’ safety but OFWs themselves are just being stubborn”.
“We deem these statements irresponsible and insensitive to OFWs in distress and their families. They might even be paving a way for a scenario wherein they’ll be laying the blame on OFWs in the event of mass repatriation. Sasabihin nilang hindi sila nagkulang, na ang mga OFW mismo ang matigas ang ulo at ayaw magpa-repatriate,” he said.
OFWs in FWRC
Martinez also belied reports that only four OFWs have sought repatriation. He said that there are at least 70 OFWs stranded at the Filipino Workers Resource Centers (FWRC) in Lattakia and Damascus who can be repatriated at the soonest possible opportunity.
“Notwithstanding that these OFWs are in the FWRCs for ‘labor-related reasons’, the embassy should immediately facilitate their repatriation in light of Alert Level 3. Repatriation is repatriation, regardless of their status or reasons for wanting to leave, unless the OFWs have criminal cases that need to be processed which they do not have,” he said.
Most of the OFWs approached the FWRCs in April, when the DFA raised Alert Level 2. The rest poured in by July as the violence continued to escalate. Some of the OFWs have been in the FWRCs since January.
Martinez said that “this nature of bureaucracy in the government’s repatriation efforts is another cause for worry, especially for the thousands of undocumented OFWs in Syria”.
Only 837 OFWs are registered with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). There are 17,000 to 20,000 OFWs in Syria. At least 2,400 OFWs are in Lattakia, 110 in Daraa and 1,600 in Homs, areas most affected by the violence.
More active repatriation efforts needed
Martinez said that the embassy should conduct more active and hands-on repatriation efforts than what they did in Libya because 95% of the OFWs are undocumented.
“A clear evacuation plan should now be in place. Unlike in Libya where OFWs were situated in construction buildings and hospitals, most of the OFWs in Syria are household-based. This requires house-to-house efforts from embassy officials to secure our OFWs. Hindi pwedeng naghihintay lang sila sa mga base nila tulad ng ginawa nila sa Libya,” he said.
Martinez announced that their Sagip Migrante Hotlines are still open. OFWs and families may contact Migrante through mobile phone number 0932-3995952 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org. “All complaints, inquiries and reports will be forwarded immediately to concerned government agencies.” ###