Syria OFWs troop to OWWA to demand promised benefits

Returned overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Syria today held a picket at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to demand the financial assistance and benefits which were promised them.

According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the returned OFWs were promised by the Philippine Embassy and POLO-OWWA in Syria that they would receive P10,000 financial assistance each and a livelihood package from the Philippine government upon repatriation.

Martinez said that the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA-DFA) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) even furnished the OFWs with endorsement letters addressed to the OWWA for the promised financial assistance.

“However, when they approached the OWWA last February, the agency denied that it had funds for such and simply offered the OFWs their livelihood package,” he said.

The OFWs nonetheless accomplished the requirements and trainings for the OWWA livelihood package, which consists of a starter kit plus a P10,000 cheque, and were told that they would receive their benefits after a month.

“But now more than a month has passed and majority of the OFWs have yet to receive their benefits from OWWA. Pinagpapasa-pasahan lang sila ng mga ahensya ng gobyerno,” Martinez said.

The migrant leader also complained that the OWWA and the DOLE, after series of dialogues, discriminate against undocumented workers by refusing to provide them with benefits. Almost 100% of OFWs in Syria are undocumented.

Martinez said that the lack of a comprehensive and systematic repatriation blueprint is to blame. “This is 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 said that the returned OFWs will be holding week-long actions until May 1, Labor Day, to demand benefits and claims from the governments, as well as the immediate repatriation of remaining OFWs in Syria. Out of 17,000 OFWs in Syria, only about 1,000 have been repatriated.###