The Philippine Embassy in Damascus reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that the Syrian Ministry of Interior issued Decision Order No. 500 dated 04 March 2012 excluding Filipinos from the list of foreign nationals allowed to work in Syria.
The DFA already relayed this recent development to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration for the issuance of proper guidelines for prospective applicants.
A deployment ban imposed by the Philippine Government is currently in place because of the worsening security situation in that country.
The DFA raised crisis alert level 4 in Syria last December 22, and the mandatory repatriation of all Filipinos in the country is underway. Under crisis alert level 4, the Philippine Government pays for the cost of repatriation when necessary.
A Rapid Response Team, composed of DFA, Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Interior and Local Government personnel, remains in Syria to help in the repatriation and to extract Filipino nationals in the country’s conflict-stricken areas, especially in the governorates of Homs, Hama, Idlib and Dara’a.
The Government is doing its utmost to repatriate all Filipinos in Syria, according to the DFA press release.
(Picture of map from http://philippinehistory.ph/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/syria_map_2012worldfactbook_300_1.jpg)
“We join the nation in mourning the tragic death of an OFW in Homs, Syria. Another hero has fallen, in a war that I’m sure she barely understood and was hardly prepared for,” Susan Ople, head of the Ople Policy Center, said.
Ople explained that the tragic death of a Filipino domestic worker while fleeing Homs, Syria with her employer’s family underscores the need for the Aquino administration to give full priority and attention to the fast-developing humanitarian crisis in Syria. This would be the second case of an OFW dying in Syria. The first case involved a worker who was about to be repatriated from Damascus to Manila. She died due to renal failure while in a wheelchair waiting for immigration clearance.
“We respect and believe in the sincerity of our embassy and DFA personnel who are in the frontlines in Syria. It is also for their benefit that the Ople Center now seeks an impartial and independent assessment of the government’s ongoing rescue and repatriation efforts through a congressional inquiry,” Ople said.
A legislative inquiry will help ascertain whether all actions are fully coordinated, and that the best teams and all necessary resources are in place in Syria.
The OFW advocate recommended that a team composed of the most battle-tested labor and welfare attaches, social welfare attaches as well as consular officers be dispatched to Syria. The Ople Center also recommended that the Commission on Appointments take up the nomination of Ambassador-designate Nestor Padalhin so that he could immediately head the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
She also recommended that the DFA and OWWA make full use of social media sites and broadcast stations to relay information to OFWs in Syria through their families here at home.
“Unlike Libya, our workers scattered across Syria do not know where the rescue teams are, and who are the community leaders or teams that they could reach out to. In quiet desperation, some of our workers have started planning their own escape routes which sadly puts them in extreme danger,” she added.
The policy center cited the case of OFWs Maricel Monteclaro and Sherly Antig who recently jumped from their building in order to escape from their employers in Lattakia. Both OFWs have been calling up the Philippine Embassy and asking for repatriation assistance because of oppressive work conditions and fear arising from sporadic sounds of gunfire near their building.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the employer of Maricel and Sherly is one of the wealthiest businessmen in Lattakia. Another OFW, Ruth Martinez, a co-worker of Maricel and Sherly, affirmed this information. Ruth Martinez came home on 29 September 2011 after an altercation with the said employer led to her repatriation.
“Our Syrian employer is very strict and also very powerful. He would promise the embassy and his domestic helpers that he would allow us to come home, but he doesn’t fulfill his promises,” Ruth said, adding that this may be the reason the two OFWs decided to escape.
Ople said she received an urgent text message from Maricel Monteclaro the other day saying that they jumped off the building and one of them was hurt. She requested the Ople Center to notify the Philippine Embassy about their situation. The former labor undersecretary was able to convey the information to OUMWA executive director Eric Endaya who is based in Damascus, Syria who in turn promised to send two embassy personnel to assist the two OFWs.
The Ople Center also called on the Philippine Embassy in Syria and the Department of Foreign Affairs to help Jacqueline Salas who has been seeking repatriation assistance since January. Jacqueline works as a domestic worker in Lattakia, Syria. She recently called her husband to reiterate her request for repatriation because of rising tensions and sporadic gunfire near her employer’s residence. Another OFW based in Damascus, Ivy Samson Escorpiso, has been seeking repatriation since 15 December 2011. According to the DFA, her case is still under negotiation.
The NGO noted that six other OFW cases seeking repatriation from Syria which was reported by the NGO during its first dialogue with the DFA on 25 August 2011 remains pending. “Once the employer confiscates the cellphone of the domestic worker, we lose track of where she is and how she is faring. Their mobile phones are lifelines that could be cut anytime by Syrian employers.”
The Ople Center said that the families of these OFWs are extremely worried and would often call up the NGO for updates. “All we could tell them is that the cases of their loved ones are still under negotiation based on information coming.
EMBASSY OF THE PHILIPPINES, DAMASCUS
Hon. (Ms.) Olivia V. Palala
Deputy Chief of Mission
Hamzeh bin Al Mutaleb St. Building No. 56,
West Mezzeh Area, Damascus,
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC
Tel No. (+963-11) 613-2626 (+963-11) 613-2626
Fax No. (963-11) 611-0152
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org@gmail.com / email@example.com@ambaphilsyria.com
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous and other Syrian officials to formally seek the Syrian Government’s full assistance in facilitating the repatriation of distressed Filipinos, especially those who are in conflict areas, such as in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and Hama.
Secretary del Rosario expressed the Philippines’ gratitude to Foreign Minister al-Moallem for ensuring that all Filipino nationals in Syria are kept safe, despite the ongoing unrest in the country. Foreign Minister al-Moallem provided the Secretary with a first-hand situationer and briefing on the events in Syria.
The Secretary thanked Minister al-Moallem for facilitating the repatriation of 490 Filipinos since the beginning of unrests in March 2011, and for allowing the widespread information dissemination on the Philippine Government’s mandatory repatriation program.
Secretary del Rosario requested the Ministry’s assistance in further updating the Philippine Embassy in Damascus’ current database of 5,000 Filipinos. This is in order to supplement the determination of the exact location and other information of other Filipiinos deployed throughout Syria’s 13 governorates.
He brought to the Minister’s attention the continuing illegal trafficking of OFWs into Syrian territory, despite the current ban on their deployment in view of alert level 4.
The Secretary also expressed the Philippines’ hope for a peaceful and orderly end to the current crisis in the country.
Earlier, Secretary del Rosario and the Philippine delegation also met with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ambassadors in Damascus for an exchange of views on the current political and security situation in Syria, and to coordinate Philippine efforts with that of the embassies of other ASEAN countries in safeguarding the welfare of their nationals across the country.
Upon arrival in Damascus last night, Secretary Del Rosario met with the leaders of the Filipino Community in Syria (FCS), in order to solidify the Philippines’ campaign for the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos, as well as to reiterate the call for all OFWs in Syria to leave the country at the soonest possible time.
“We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of all Filipinos in Syria. It is our objective to undertake the repatriation of our kababayans as quickly as possible,” Secretary del Rosario told the leaders of the Filipino community that met him. He added, “We will be repatriating 200 OFWs within the next 2 weeks and another 200 in the following weeks.”
Together with the Philippine delegation and Embassy officers and staff, Secretary del Rosario also thoroughly reviewed the Embassy’s contingency plans, which resulted in a greater commitment of resources that will help in the urgent implementation of the repatriation program.
Accompanied by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos, Jr., Secretary del Rosario proceeded to Syria on January 1 to further intensify the Philippine Government’s ongoing efforts in the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Syria.
The Philippine Embassy in Damascus reported that 21 Filipinos are expected to arrive from Syria onboard a Qatar Airways flight this evening in light of the Philippine government’s raising of alert level 3 (voluntary repatriation) in said country.
The Embassy repatriated six Filipinos on September 20. One Filipino also arrived from Damascus on September 21.
Most of the Filipino repatriates were household service workers (HSWs) who expressed their desire to come home due to labor-related issues with their respective employers.
The Embassy and the Overseas Preparedness and Response Team with a 10-member Rapid Reaction Team (RRT) for Syria conducted intensive negotiations with the Filipino repatriates’ employers for the immediate release of their exit visas.
The RRT arrived in Syria three weeks ago as augmentation personnel to the Embassy in its efforts to repatriate Filipinos in the country. The team is composed of officials from the DFA, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Following the instruction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, the Philippine Embassy in Damascus has been intensifying its efforts to repatriate Filipino nationals in Syria, according to Charge d’Affaires Ricardo Endaya.
The DFA has raised Alert Level 3 in Syria on August 16, and have enjoined Filipinos in the country to go home. Under Alert Level 3, voluntary repatriation at government’s expense will be offered to Filipinos who wish to leave Syria in light of the escalating tensions there.
In Manila, the DFA has organized the Task Group on Voluntary Repatriation-Syria. Relatives of Filipinos in Syria living in the Philippines may call the following numbers: 834-4617, 834-4618, 834-4619, 834-4620, 834-4621, 834-4622, 834-4623, 834-4624, 834-3245 and 834-3240 (from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M., Monday to Sunday); 834-3333 and 834-4997 (from 8 P.M. to 8 A.M., Monday to Sunday).
They may also send text messages to +639275768621 or +639158445546.
Filipinos in Syria may likewise call the Philippine Embassy in Damascus at the dedicated hotline numbers +96311-6132626 (landline), and +96393-2176214 and +96399-0270464 (mobile) to seek assistance and information from the Embassy.
In a statement issued to the media, Migrante said that Cuyugan must be recalled due to his failure to read the actual peace and order situation in Syria. He kept on saying publicly that the OFWs have ‘nothing to worry about’ as the situation in Syria is ‘not worst’.
Migrante said in the statement that it has been receiving contracting reports from trapped OFWs who have been seeking to be evacuated and repatriated.
“Ambassador Cuyugan even dilly-dallied and acted too late on the repatriation of about 60 distressed OFWs then temporarily seeking refuge at the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) since June 2010 or at the start of the upheaval in Syria in which we have exposed and pressed him hard,” the statement explained.
The ambassador was more of a liability to the DFA, it further said. He failed to provide assistance to trapped OFWs who pleaded to be evacuated and repatriated without further delay, Migrante further said.
“We welcome his recall from the post, while we continue to urge the DFA to clean its ranks from inept and incompetent envoy especially here in the Middle East as the Arab Spring continues,” the organization reiterated.
Migrante likewise said that OFWs need “pro-active and action men” envoys such as Secretary del Rosario and Usec Seguis who have led the the actual evacuation of trapped OFWs in Libya recently.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said today that the teams from the DFA and the Philippine Embassies in Tripoli and Damascus continue to provide assistance to Filipinos in Libya and Syria in light of escalating tensions in said countries.
In Libya, 35 Filipinos were able to board the International Organization for Migration (IOM) chartered vessel, M/V Tasuko, which sailed from the port of Tripoli at 9 p.m. local time (3 a.m. today, Manila time). It is expected to arrive in Benghazi on Saturday at 11 a.m. local time (5 p.m. Manila time).
From Benghazi, the Filipino repatriates will travel by land to the Egyptian border of Al Salom. A team from the Philippine Embassy in Cairo is already in place at the Egyptian border and will receive and assist these Filipinos in their repatriation back to Manila.
In Tripoli, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis and Philippine Ambassador to Libya Alejandrino Vicente, together with the Philippine Embassy personnel, continue to convince Filipinos to leave Libya and to assist Filipinos who have expressed their desire to be repatriated.
In Syria, as of date, some 395 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have already expressed their desire to come home and avail of the voluntary repatriation of the Philippine government. An Embassy team is negotiating and making the appropriate representations with their employers and with the concerned Syrian authorities for the immediate release of their exit visas.
To date, the Philippine Embassy in Damascus has already processed the exit visas of some 108 OFWs and is arranging their immediate repatriation.
Embassy officials and community coordinators in Syria continue to contact Filipinos there to inquire about their condition and to inform them of the Embassy’s voluntary repatriation program. They have also advised Filipinos not to venture outside, especially if tensions are nearby.
Upon the instruction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos, Jr. went to Syria last week to assist the Embassy in the implementation of its contingency plan and to implement measures for the Syria-wide Alert Level 3. DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) Executive Director Ricardo Endaya also went to Syria to assist the Embassy in the repatriation efforts.
The Embassy has activated the “Task Group on Voluntary Repatriation” wherein three teams were convened to attend to specific assignments. A five-man “outgoing calls” team from the Embassy actively calls OFWs and urges them to leave and avail of the government’s voluntary repatriation program. Another five-man “incoming calls” team receives calls from the OFWs who have decided to avail of the voluntary repatriation program. The third team, called the negotiation team, negotiates and represents the OFWs, who have expressed their desire to come home, with their employers and the concerned Syrian authorities for the immediate release of their exit visas.
Meanwhile, 12 Filipino nationals arrived Thursday, August 25, from Syria via Emirates Airways.
Representatives from the DFA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) welcomed the Filipino repatriates at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The DFA continues to attend to families of Filipinos in Libya and in Syria, briefing them about the government’s measures being undertaken and in place.
The Philippine Embassy in Damascus’ hotline number is 00-963-116-132626. Families may also e-mail their requests and concerns through the Embassy’s e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Manila, the DFA-OUMWA also activated hotline numbers for families of Filipinos based in Syria and in Libya, at 834-3245 and 834-3240.
Romulo said the DFA is raising Alert Level 3 for the entire country of Syria effective today as internal conflict between political leaders and parties has mobilized thousands to go on marches that caused eruption of violence on the streets.
“Under Alert Level 3 (voluntary repatriation), all Filipinos working and residing in Syria are enjoined to leave Syria and the Philippine Government will provide for the repatriation cost,” Romulo said in the DFA press statement.
He likewise directed the Philippine Embassy in Damascus to intensify its efforts to reach out to Filipinos and convince them that now is the time to consider leaving Syria.
There are more or less 5,000 OFWs in Syria who mostly work as domestic helpers. The Department of Labor and Employment estimated that 90 percent of the OFWs in Syria are illegal.