DFA eyes repatriation of 500 Pinoys from Syria before January ends
January 5, 2012 8:40am
Philippine officials hope to repatriate at least 500 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from conflict-hit Syria before the end of January.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said the first batch may arrive as early as Friday.
"Maybe for January, we will be able to work on the repatriation of about 500 OFWs. We are looking at the next two weeks for repatriation," Hernandez said in an interview on dwIZ radio.
He said they hope to repatriate an initial batch of 200 OFWs in two weeks' time, and another 200 "several weeks after that."
When asked if there will be arrivals of OFWs within this week, he said there may be arrivals on Friday, Jan. 6, but did not give other details.
The Philippine government is undertaking the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Syria after raising the alert level there to "4."
Last New Year's weekend, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario went to Syria to meet with Syrian officials and seek their help in facilitating the OFWs' repatriation.
Hernandez admitted the Philippine government faces many obstacles in the repatriation efforts, ranging from restrictions on Philippine officials in conflict areas, to reported offers by some employers to raise OFWs' pay.
He said Philippine embassy personnel are not allowed to enter the critical areas of Daraa, Homs, Hamah, and Idlib.
"May kahirapan lang ang pagkukuha sa kanila sa mga conflict areas kasi di tayo pinapayagan ng Syrian government na pumunta sa mga areas na yan. Walang representative ang embahada na pinapayagang pumunta sa conflict areas," he said.
On the other hand, he said they have to be "very meticulous" in coordinating with Syrian officials for the repatriation efforts.
But he said they are eyeing arrangements to have local taxi drivers fetch OFWs who want to be repatriated.
"Tinitingnan ng ating embahada ang malaman na o hallimbawa matukoy ang location ng kababayan doon na magpadala tayo ng kaibigan nating taxi driver, bayaran natin para sunduin at dalhin sa Damascus," he said.
Double, triple wages
Also, he said they have received reports that some OFWs cannot decide whether to avail of repatriation because their employers allegedly offered to double or even triple their wages.
"May ganoong reports. At ang iba ayaw payagan ng kanilang amo na lumikas kasi kailangan sila sa bahay," he said.
He admitted the Philippine government will have a hard time repatriating these OFWs since the employers' approval is a requirement for their exit visas.
"Kung hindi papayagan sila ng kanilang amo, and we have attempted to negotiate with them, mahihirapan din tayo. One of the requirements to get an exit visa is the approval of the employer," he said.
Hernandez admitted it was embarrasing for the Philippines to have recruiters still bringing in Filipinos to Syria.
Citing reports reaching him, he said the recruiters lure Filipinos to Syria with promises of high pay, and claims that the situation is not as bad as reported.
"Kaya enganyo ang kababayan at nabibiktima," he said. - VVP, GMA News