[PHOTO -ROAD TO DAMASCUS In this image from an amateur video released by the Shaam News Network, Syrians in Idlib, north Syria, flash victory signs to celebrate the brazen attack that killed key security officials in the inner circle of President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Wednesday. AP]

MANILA, JULY 22, 2012 (INQUIRER) Citing “escalating violence” in Syria, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday said it would deploy a “rapid response team” to assist the Philippine Embassy in Damascus in repatriating 8,000 Filipinos in the strife-torn Middle East country.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the team would be composed of officers from the departments of foreign affairs, labor and the interior.

Hernandez said that since March, 1,806 OFWs had been repatriated under a mandatory evacuation program.

Of the 8,000 Filipinos still in Syria only around 1,300 had expressed willingness to return home. They include 130 staying at the embassy’s quarters in Damascus.

But as the situation worsens, Hernandez said he expected the number of returnees to increase.

‘Strategic silence’

He said the embassy’s charge d’affaires, Olivia Palala, was doing everything to implement the evacuation.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the embassy would remain open “as long as we have OFWs there who need help.”

Instead of condemning the atrocities committed by the Syrian government, the Philippines is “maintaining strategic silence on the situation in Syria as we are focused on the safety and welfare of several thousands of our people who remain there,” Del Rosario said. Jerry E. Esplanada


Filipinos charged over $12,000 to flee Syria: Manila AFP
Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012

[PHOTO - Scores of "gullible" Filipinos are being tricked into going to work in Syria each month despite an official ban on travel to the violence-wracked country ...]

MANILA - Filipino workers trying to flee the unrest in Syria are being charged up to US$10,000 (S$12,624) by their employers before they can leave, the foreign department in Manila said on Tuesday.

Syrian employers are demanding that they be refunded large amounts they paid for the deployment of Philippine staff, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters.

"The problem now is the employers are asking more money for the refund of the deployment cost. Before it was only $4,000 per worker and now it's even reaching up to $10,000 dollars," he said.

Hernandez said the embassy often had to negotiate with the employers to accept a lower amount because the workers could not afford to pay that much.

Another problem is that Filipino workers are continuing to arrive, brought in by illegal labour recruiters in Syria, despite the violence plaguing the country, he said.

He warned people not to be "duped" by offers of high-paying jobs.

The Philippines has already repatriated over 1,800 Filipinos from Syria but is still processing the papers for more than 1,000 others, Hernandez said.

The increasing violence was making it harder to get them out, he said, as he appealed to all Filipinos in Syria to go to the embassy and seek help to be repatriated.

In June, the government estimated that there were 7,000 Filipinos in Syria, many of them working as domestic helpers.

The Philippine government banned Filipinos from working in Syria and ordered a mandatory evacuation of its nationals there in December, some 10 months after an uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad broke out.

About nine million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money in a wide range of skilled and unskilled jobs abroad than they could in their impoverished homeland.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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