10,000 OFWs want to leave Syria

AS THE civil war intensifies in Syria and is feared to spread in other cities, more trapped overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) wanted to leave out of Syria, according to the Filipino migrants rights group Migrante-Middle East (M-ME).

M-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said there are OFWs in Syria who desperately tried to contact him and other Migrante officers in Saudi Arabia in the past days seeking for assistance.

“I and other Migrante officers received several calls from unregistered numbers from Syria but the line immediately cut off,” said Monterona.

Monterona cited for instance he received a call three days ago from unregistered number from Syria and the person on the other line pleaded for assistance. “The caller is pleading for assistance saying “tulungan nyo po kami maka-alis dito” (help us please to leave from here), but before I could ask who she is the line cut off,” Monterona added.

“Obviously, telecommunication facilities in Syria were shut down or maybe already damaged thus having trouble in getting an outside call,” Monterona noted.

Monterona added that Migrante International-Rights and Welfare Committee is also receiving request for assistance from the kin of several OFWs trapped in Syria.

Mr. Joko Aviles of Valenzuela City, for instance, contacted Migrante on July 26, 2012 asking assistance to locate his wife Michelle Elarmo, a household service worker.

“Wala na po kaming communication sa kanya. Kasama daw po sya sa mga nagpalista maka-uwi (We don’t have communication with her. She’s among those who were listed for repatriation),” Mr. Aviles averred.

Last week the DFA confirmed that there were close to 2,000 OFWs already repatriated from Syria, while there are 6,000 to 7,000 OFWs left.

“The DFA’s figure is too conservative. Our estimate is that there are 10,000 to 12,000 OFWs still in Syria pleading for evacuation and repatriation,” Monterona added.

Commenting on the relatively small numbers of OFWs repatriated compared to the estimated total numbers of OFWs in Syria, Monterona said it is mainly attributed to the ‘wait and see’ stance of the Aquino govt.

“About three or four months since the Syrian war broke out, govt. evacuation effort is too slow despite pleas from OFWs trapped in Syrian cities where there is heavy fighting. It seems that the Aquino government and its officials did not learn from Libya experience,” Monterona opined.

Monterona noted that his group had been sending, on behalf of the families of distressed and stranded OFWs who sought our assistance, requests for repatriation of the distressed OFWs in Syria to the Philippine ambassador to Syria. “But it is unfortunate then that we and the families of the distressed OFWs are not even getting any acknowledgement and reply from the Ambassador and his embassy’s “Assistance to the Nationals (ATN)” staff,” Monterona averred.

Monterona , however, suggested that it is not only wise but also more effective if the Aquino govt. will seek the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental organization promoting ‘humane and orderly’ migration.

IOM was initially established in 1951 as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) to help resettle people displaced by World War II.

“The IOM was very active in the repatriation of trapped migrant workers during Libyan upheaval. In fact, if not of the IOM that brought a number of barges and ships, a huge number of OFWs could not safely sneak out of Libya and safely return home. But more than that, it could ask the Assad govt. to let the migrant workers, including our OFWs, freely leave,” Monterona said.

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