Syria and Libya on my mind

As the Department of Foreign Affairs issues its last call for Filipinos wanting to leave Libya, international media and civil society groups now look at Syria as the latest country to be affected by the reform contagion.

Syria has been under emergency rule since 1963. Violence continues to escalate as military troops shoot at protesters, a scenario that seems to serve as a tried-and-tested catalyst for even more freedom marches as evidenced in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.

Syria is on my mind nowadays because it is home to more than 17,000 Filipinos, most of who are undocumented domestic helpers whose passports are in the iron grip of their employers. Considering the great difficulty of the Philippine government in extricating 4 household workers of Qaddafi’s nephew in Tripoli, Libya, what more when tens of thousands of kasambahays in Syria start calling out for emergency repatriation?

In Libya, Filipino nurses have been offered additional pay on top of high salaries that are already triple the average salary of a nurse in the Philippines. Much ado has been made out of the alleged mercenary mindset of these nurses — choosing money over personal safety. It is always easy for one to talk from behind one’s laptop, in polluted Metro Manila, where salaries are as stagnant as the nearest estero. As long as they made the tough decision to stay knowing fully well the consequences that come with it, then that ought to be respected.

The case is very much different however in relation to the four housemaids of Qaddafi’s nephew. They want to come home. They are frightened beyond words. Unlike the nurses in Benghazi and the university professors of Misrata, the four domestic helpers have no choice to make – have no voice whether in time of war or peace. Their free will is kept under lock and key together with their Philippine passports.

Yes, Syria and Libya are very much on my mind. I pray that the guns of war spare the innocent migrant workers especially the household workers because they are undoubtedly the most vulnerable of all. They know nothing of the politics that threaten to tear these countries apart. They do know about the economic conditions that pushed them to leave.

Poverty is a kasambahay in perpetual pain, crying out for dignity, freedom and a chance at a better, safer life.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • sad reality especially for the Qaddafi’s kasambahays. having no choice at all is like one step away from the graveyard 🙁