OFWs in Syria
My very first anti-human trafficking case was in January 2006. It revolved around a Filipino domestic worker named Alice. She was from Pampanga. It was Dindo Amparo who was then bureau chief of The Filipino Channel (TFC) who referred her to the Blas F. Ople Center. From one distressed OFW, the number of those seeking our help for repatriation grew, in a matter of days, to 17 OFWs, all women and human trafficking victims. That was how I came to learn about the challenges confronting our women OFWs in Syria.
Fast-forward to today. Unlike in 2006, we now have a Philippine Embassy in Damascus. This was also a result of our lobbying efforts with the Senate and the Department of Foreign Affairs. From 6,000 Filipinos in 2006, we now have an estimated 17,000 women in Syria, 95% of whom are there illegally. Some are already married to Syrian nationals.
It is their safety that we now seek as government forces continue to quell rebellion in some parts of Syria. The DFA has announced an Alert Level 3 for Syria. This means voluntary repatriation for Filipinos in conflict areas with help from the Philippine government. Unfortunately, since more than 90% of Filipinos in Syria are working there as household service workers, rescue missions would not be easy.
Just as in the Lebanon war, some employers left behind their Filipino workers to guard the house while they relocated to safer territories. It would not be far-fetched to think that this could also be happening in Syria. In other cases, the employers took their household service worker along with them when moving to safer places. An augmentation team composed of labor, foreign affairs and even police and military officers has been dispatched by the Office of the Executive Secretary to help the Philippine Embassy secure the safety of Filipinos there. To ensure a successful mission, the complete cooperation and understanding of Syrian employers are essential. Still, what is important is for our compatriots in Syria to stay calm, remain level-headed, and find ways to contact community leaders and/or the Philippine Embassy.
Sadly, the Philippine Embassy does not have a complete database of its constituents in Syria. They should have invested in information-gathering while the alert level was not yet this high. The failure of our foreign posts to keep track of OFWs in their areas of jurisdiction is a perennial problem that crops up during times of emergencies overseas. When will we ever learn?
For those who wish to provide information to the Blas F. Ople Center about the whereabouts and contact details of their loved ones in Syria, please contact us through: +632 8335337; or send an SMS to +639158435498. You can also write to me directly via firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.
Here is the Philippine Embassy’s # in Syria: +963116132626
The DFA’s 24/7 hotlines are: +632 8344646 and +632 8344580.
As always, let us pray for the safety of our overseas workers in Syria, Libya, and elsewhere in the world.