Tuesday, 13 December 2011 10:59
Amid the worsening political situation in Syria, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it has stepped up its efforts to reach out to Filipinos in that strife-torn country and convince them to leave.
However, the DFA admitted it is hard for the government to repatriate them as almost all Filipino workers in Syria are undocumented. This hampers the agency's efforts to account for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Syria and have them repatriated.
The DFA noted that 98 percent of around 17,000 Filipinos in Syria are undocumented.
Reports said a general strike was being observed on Sunday in several regions of Syria to step up the pressure on the regime, as fears grew of an "invasion" of the besieged protest hub of Homs.
The general strike was being "very widely observed" in southern Syria's Daraa province, cradle of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad that broke out in mid-March.
The DFA said it is still in the process of tracking down the distressed OFWs in Syria, who are mostly domestic helpers.
In August, the DFA 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 that "All Filipinos working and residing in Syria are enjoined to leave Syria and the Philippine government will provide for the repatriation cost."
A deployment ban to Syria was also imposed.
The DFA said that during the past six months, an estimated 300 OFWs have availed themselves of the government's voluntary repatriation program.
In September, the DFA sent a 10-member Rapid Reaction Team to Syria as augmentation personnel to the embassy there in its efforts to repatriate Filipinos in that country.
A DFA Task Group on Voluntary Repatriation was also organized and the embassy is coordinating with the International Organization for Migration office in Damascus and with the airline companies for the government’s ongoing efforts to repatriate more OFWs from Syria.
By Faye P. Velasco-PNA
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