To further intensify the Philippine Government’s ongoing efforts for the safe repatriation of Filipinos in Syria, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, accompanied by Undersecretary Rafael E. Seguis, visited Syria on September 04 and 05 and held meetings with Syrian leaders.
The Secretary first met with Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, Presidential Adviser for Political and Media Affairs.
The Secretary extended the Philippines’ gratitude for her assistance in facilitating the repatriation of some 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in August 2012 during the visit to Syria of Undersecretary Seguis. These 200 OFWs were repatriated to the Philippines without paying any exit visa fees and penalties at the Syrian Immigration and Passport Directorate.
Dr. Shaaban informed the Secretary that the Philippines is very close to her heart and that Syria considers the Philippines as a dear friend.
The Secretary explained to Dr. Shaaban that he is once again in Syria to request for the immediate repatriation of some 250 OFWs currently in the Embassy’s shelter, without the usual exit visa requirements, as was done earlier in August.
The Secretary also requested Dr. Shaaban’s assistance in facilitating the repatriation of another 1,300 OFWs who have openly expressed their desire to go home to the Philippines, as well as about 2,400 others who are known to have been deployed in Syria, but have not manifested their intention to return to the Philippines.
The Secretary also explained that, although these workers are staying in Syria legally, most of them were illegally-recruited from the Philippines and may, thus, be considered as victims of human trafficking.
The Secretary expressed his thanks to Syria for the good treatment many Syrian families have given Filipino workers under their employment, particularly in treating them as part of their families.
Dr. Shaaban conveyed her thanks to the Secretary and promised him that she will do her best in working with the Philippines, even behind closed doors. She also assured the Secretary that she will make a call on Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem for him to accommodate the requests of the Philippine delegation in the meeting that followed.
The Philippine delegation handed over a list of all OFWs currently at the shelter, a list of all OFWs actively-seeking repatriation (but are not currently in the Embassy’s shelter), and a list of all OFWs known to be deployed in Syria, based on the combined database of the Embassy, the Immigration Directorate and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.
The Secretary then met with Foreign Minister al-Moallem, who was joined by Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous and the Chief of Asia Department, Ambassador Suleiman Saraa.
The Secretary began the meeting by thanking Foreign Minister al-Moallem who left an important Cabinet meeting to be able to accommodate the Philippine delegation.
The Secretary expressed hope that the Syrian issue be settled peacefully, so that Syria could go back to the way it was.
The Secretary explained the difficulties that the Philippine Government is now experiencing in repatriating its nationals. The Secretary requested the same exemptions from exit visa fees and requirements that was granted in favor of a total of 200 OFWs last August, and requested the same arrangements for the 1,300 OFWs who have expressed their desire to be repatriated.
The Secretary also proposed that the Syrian government allow the repatriation of the 250 OFWs in the shelter first, and then coordinate with thePhilippine Embassy on the repatriation of those on the list of 1,300 OFWs immediately after. Both lists were given by the Philippine delegation to Ambassador Suleiman Saraa.
Foreign Minister al-Moallem requested for the list of all Filipino nationals currently in the Embassy’s shelter, and assured the Secretary that he will get the approval of Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi in order to allow the repatriation of these workers at the soonest possible time.
After the meeting and upon his return to the Embassy, the Secretary immediately received a phone call from Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous, informing the Secretary of President Bashar al-Assad’s orders to waive the exit visa requirements for all the OFWs in the shelter, immediately and without preconditions. The Secretary, in turn, conveyed his thanks, as well as that of the Philippine Government.