OFW group alarmed by impending air strikes on Syria Enforce repatriation efforts to the hilt, gov’t told

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos and families Migrante International today called on the Philippine government to enforce repatriation of Filipinos in Syria “to the hilt” in light of reports of imminent air strikes on Syria anytime within the week.

According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the situation in Syria is fast worsening into an outright civil war with threats of direct foreign military intervention.

“Just like what happened in Libya, the United States had recently led the formation of an international coalition in support of Syria’s Opposition with the aim to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. US-NATO forces, under the guise of a humanitarian mission by the United Nations and Arab League, are now poised for military and air strikes on Syria,” he said.

The uprising in Syria which erupted in March 2011 was inspired by the Arab Spring revolts across the region. It started with peaceful protests calling for legitimate people’s demands which prompted violent retaliation by the Syrian government. In recent months, the rebel Free Syrian Army had stepped up attacks against regime troops, resulting in more violent clashes between rebels and the government.

“Once again, imperialist forces are taking advantage of the situation to install an ally and puppet government in Syria,” Martinez said.

Migrante International called on the Philippine government take a position and condemn impending foreign military intervention in Syria that may endanger the lives of tens of thousands of Filipinos. It also called on its chapters around the world to condemn and oppose US-NATO’s plans to strike Syria for territorial and economic motives at the expense of Syrian nationals and migrant population.

Repatriation still sporadic, in trickles

“We are very concerned that thus far the repatriation of Filipinos in Syria is at the behest and discretion of employers. As we see it, the Philippine government is not dealing with the Syrian government but with employers and private agencies. We fail to see how a massive and more systematic repatriation can be implemented with this approach,” Martinez said.

He said that most of repatriated OFWs, more than 700 in total as per latest reports, had their deployment costs “negotiated” by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with Syrian employers who refused to let go of their Filipino household workers.

“While we welcome the DFA’s efforts, the ongoing scheme is limiting at best. Tali ang kamay ng mga opisyal natin para makapaglunsad ng mas malawakang repatriation. Hindi ito ang hinihingi ng panahon at kalagayan ngayon sa Syria. We think that in light of the clear and present danger, the Philippine government should be more assertive in enforcing its policy of an Alert Level 4.

 The DFA had been attributing sporadic repatriation of Filipinos in Syria to shortage and slow processing of funds needed for deployment costs demanded by Syrian employers. Some USD$2,000-USD$4,000 have been allotted per OFW, subject to negotiations with employers.

“Also, repatriation efforts are concentrated in only four (4) cities – Homs, Hama, Idlib and Daraa – where the violence is most rampant. Ang sinasabi nila ay ‘payapa’ at ‘hindi naman magulo’ sa ibang mga lugar, kahit na may mga kababayan tayong nagparehistro na para umuwi. Hihintayin pa ba nilang kumalat sa ibang lugar ang karahasan? What is the basis of Alert Level 4 in the whole country then?” Martinez said.

No reintegration measures for returned OFWs

The migrant leader said that the lack of a comprehensive and systematic repatriation blueprint is also reflective in the government’s non-existent reintegration measure for returned OFWs from Syria.

“Again, we fail to see a system. If a government enforces a full mandatory repatriation campaign, it is also expected to provide immediate assistance to returned OFWs. Most returned OFWs came back without wages, with only the clothes on their backs. The least the government could do is to provide financial assistance to help them get back on their feet,” Martinez said.

He added, “Ang nangyayari ngayon, nagtuturuan ang DFA at OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration). Unlike Libya, it is harder for OFWs from Syria to demand assistance from the OWWA because most of them are undocumented.” ###