(Updated 11:59 p.m.) Concerned over the escalating violence in Syria, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday raised the crisis alert level in that country to "3" and urged Filipinos there to leave immediately.
Under crisis alert level 3, voluntary repatriation at the government’s expense will be offered to Filipinos who wish to leave Syria, according to the DFA.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement, "All Filipinos working and residing in Syria are enjoined to leave Syria and the Philippine government will provide for the repatriation cost."
"I have directed our 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," he said.
DFA records showed that there are 17,000 Filipinos living and working in Syria.
Also on Tuesday, the Philippines imposed a deployment ban to Syria as hostilities there continue to escalate, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said.
POEA administrator Carlos Cao said they will temporarily stop the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there until the situation there improves.
Safety of Syrians, other nationals
In a phone patch interview on GMA News TV’s “State of the Nation" newscast late Tuesday, an OFW in Latakia, Syria, relayed the plea of Filipinos there for help.
“Kung ako rin naman, ang suggestion ko lang, lahat na ng Pilipino pauwiin eh," said the OFW who chose to be known only by the name “Jane" so as not to cause her family to worry.
Jane also confirmed that embassy representatives have come to the aid of Filipinos in Latakia. “Mismo pong embasador (sic) natin, nag-order na pumunta sila dito sa amin sa lugar namin na Latakia," she said.
Filipinos there are “organized" as a group, she said.
But Jane expressed concern that Filipinos in her area might not receive immediate help.
“Feeling ko hindi kami actually makukuha agad ng mga otoridad namin dito, hindi sa ayaw nila kaming tulungan. Kung tutuusin gusto nila kaming tulungan. Ang problema nga lang po, ang mga employer namin, ayaw pumayag na ibigay kami doon sa otoridad natin. Iyon lang po ang problema dito sa amin," Jane said.
Del Rosario on Monday urged the Syrian government to do its utmost to end the hostilities and ensure the safety of the Syrian people and all foreign nationals.
“We therefore urge the Syrian government to address the Syrian people’s concerns and to immediately implement the reforms promised to them," Del Rosario said in a statement on Monday.
Despite Philippine government appeals to the Filipinos to leave Syria, many Filipinos remain in that country for fear of losing their jobs.
Syrian forces continued its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters who are demanding Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down.
On Monday, the Philippine government placed only three Syrian areas — Daraa, Latakia, and Homs — under alert level three. The areas are home to about 4,110 Filipinos.
The crisis alert level in Syria is one notch lower than alert level 4, which means "mandatory evacuation and repatriation" of Filipino nationals in affected areas at Philippine government expense.
Other alert levels include alert level 2, which means Filipinos are urged to voluntarily relocate or leave the country if they have no pressing need to remain. They should also actively monitor developments and be prepared for emergencies.
Alert level 1 means Filipinos are urged to actively monitor ongoing developments. Returning workers are allowed to go back to the concerned country, but non-essential and non-urgent travels are still not allowed. — with Amita Legaspi/PE/VVP/VS/HS, GMA News