6 OFWs from Region 12 stranded in Syria

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 August) – The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao is closely monitoring the repatriation of six overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the region who are currently stranded in strife-torn areas in Syria.

Abdulghani Umag, OWWA Region 12 director, said a report from the OWWA central office showed that two active and four inactive members of the agency from Region 12 have yet to be repatriated from Syria.

The national government earlier raised Alert Level 4 and set the immediate, forced evacuation of the estimated 17,000 OFWs in Syria due to the worsening internal conflict in the area.

“That (number) was based on the OWWA central office’s database. The problem is, we don’t have any information as to how many of the OFWs who had entered illegally in Syria were from Region 12,” Umag said.

Region 12 covers the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Umag said they have opened two hotline numbers – 09177260443 and (083) 5200205 – at the OWWA regional office in Koronadal City and offered free calls for relatives of OFWs from the area who are presently based in Syria.

He said they also extended their office hours up to 8 p.m. to accommodate inquiries and requests for assistance from the relatives of the OFWs.

The official said they already extended assistance to the family of OFW Jessica Cagaitan, who earlier signified to avail of the government’s repatriation program but had lost her passport and other documents.

Umag said he sent an email to Cagaitan advising her to immediately contact the Philippine embassy so she can get a new passport and other travel documents.

“Once she reaches the Philippine embassy, she will certainly be able to go home,” he assured.

Meantime, Umag said they were also verifying whether there were still OFWs from Region 12 among the estimated 7,000 Filipinos who are still in Libya.

Violence at the Libyan capital of Tripoli and nearby areas escalated during the past several days as opposition forces advanced towards the stronghold of Libyan leader Muamar Khadaffy.

The national government also raised Alert Level 4 for OFWs in Libya and sent a rescue team at the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli to facilitate the evacuation and repatriation of the remaining Filipino nationals in the area.

“Nobody has so far asked for our assistance regarding any OFWs from the region who were still stuck in Libya. So we really don’t know if there’s anyone still left there or not,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)