Relatives demand immediate repatriation of 52 Syria OFWs. Philippine Embassy officials in Syria accused of corruption and extortion.

Loved ones of 52 OFWs in Syria called on the Duterte government on friday morning for immediate repatriation. All of the OFWs, mostly female trafficking victims have been currently staying inside the Philippine embassy for more than two to three years on average. Some were even trafficked when they were still minors. 

Pastor Marie Sol Villalon, anti-trafficking ministry head and program manager of the United Methodist Church’s Manila Episcopal Area called on the government to combat trafficking and provide welfare services to OFW victims. “The Duterte government should never allow our kababayans to be trafficked and enslaved. The United Methodist Church rejects the commercialization and exploitation of people. There’s an ongoing war in Syria so this should have never happened.” Offering their messages of solidarity, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and Pastor Dan Jalo also re-echoed the urgent calls of Syria 52.

Trying to hold back his emotions, Naeem Ameril related his sister Alea’s plight during the Syrian war when ISIS took control of Aleppo where she was working and now she’s faced with even more troubles under the COVID-19 crisis. Aleaia is a victim of human trafficking when she was 11 years old. As early as 2013, her sister has been begging to return home. Ameril has been going back and forth to DFA-OUMWA, OWWA and other government agencies but to no avail. “I already talked to OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac and I even went to Malacanang’s complaint center but I was only given a referral slip. None of them acted on their promises.”

Alea has been stuck for 1 year inside the Philippine embassy along with 51 other OFWs. Ameril says that they are not even allowed by Philippine embassy officials to speak to her sister over the phone. 

Aiza, not her real name, was promised by the recruiter for deployment to Europe but found herself trafficked to Syria where she was abused, starved for weeks and was almost raped by her employer. “I was stuck for four (4) months inside the Philippine Embassy in Syria. If it were not for my uncle who is a lawyer, I wouldn’t have been able to return back to the Philippines,” Aiza exclaimed. 

Filled with contempt against the abuses inflicted to the remaining OFWs inside the Philippine Embassy compound in Syria, Aiza blasted Philippine embassy officials for corruption and extortion abuses. “Philippine Embassy officials in Syria are driven by their greed for money. When I asked them to send me back home, they demanded Php 25 thousand from me as well as from my fellow OFWs inside the embassy compound.”

Speaking for Stranded PH, a group formed by stranded OFWs, Marc de Jesus said, “We will not stop until the Syria 52 are repatriated and provided amelioration by the Duterte government. It angers us that Philippine Embassy officials in Syria are even extorting stranded and distressed OFWs. There will be no trafficking if there are no corrupt officials.”

Two relatives of Syria 52 also relayed their messages via video recordings during the press conference. They called on the Duterte government to respond to their pleadings. 

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion hit the Duterte government’s budget priorities at a time when big multitudes of OFWs are stranded and wanting to go home. “OFWs will not be provided with increased funding for legal assistance and other DFA services. The regime allocated more funds for war, militarization and in attacking human rights instead of delivering services for our kababayans and OFWs impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. DFA and the Duterte government are both answerable to the corruption issues being raised by Syria OFWs. The OFWs are already inside the Philippine Embassy but they are being held incommunicado by embassy officials. This is a serious violation of their rights and their families back home are very worried and alarmed. For victimizing distressed OFWs in Syria with extortion, corrupt officials must be held accountable and face the consequences of their actions before the law. We also reiterate our call on the Duterte government to bring home Syria 52 so they can be reunited with their families.” Concepcion concluded.