Locsin commits to bring home distressed Filipinos from Syria

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Repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs arrive at an airport after being allowed to go home following weeks of quarantine amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez - RC2BWG9A3EKK

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will repatriate all distressed Filipinos currently seeking shelter at the Philippine Embassy in Syria, some of whom were reportedly trafficked and sexually abused before they were brought to the Embassy.

“I am emptying the shelters of all wards—no later than next flight out; sending a team to do it. It won’t happen again. Good intentioned NGOs (non-government organizations) complain about violations of privacy and risk of naming victims but for me [The Washington Post] got the job done,” he said in a tweet.

The commitment was made following a Jan. 25 Washington Post report titled “Sold into Syrian servitude, Filipina workers tell of abuse, rape and imprisonment,” which detailed the experiences of some Filipinos who were promised a job in the United Arab Emirates but were trafficked to Syria to work as domestic helpers.

The news report said some of the victims were sold “between $8,000 and $10,000” and these Filipino workers were “at times subjected to physical and sexual attacks by their employers and denied the salaries they were promised.”

It also noted the case of a 15-year-old child who was said to be 12 years old when she was trafficked to Syria. The kid is reportedly living at the Philippine Embassy in Syria for the past 20 months, where some of the embassy staff allegedly even “asked her if she would like to go back to work instead”.

In a separate statement dated Jan. 25, the Philippine Embassy in Syria said it takes the allegations written in the report “seriously.”

It said “certain personnel have been administratively investigated and a human rights lawyer has been deployed to further look into the allegations of poor treatment of Filipino victims while under temporary shelter to recommend other necessary actions to be taken.”

The DFA has yet to provide details as to when they target the next repatriation flight for these Filipinos, but the Embassy said talks are ongoing with the employers to secure their exit visas.

It has also been working to obtain various clearances required by the Syrian government, such as payment for visa fees, residence visa penalty fees, social security clearances fees, and court fees.

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