OWWA: We’re ready to respond to Syria crisis

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 August)—An official at the regional office of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration assured government was ready to respond in case the political turmoil in Syria worsened.

Petrona Bergado, OWWA-Region 10 director, said there are 1,084 Filipinos now trapped in Syria but that they are on top of the situation.

She said at least five of the OFWs who are still in Syria are from Northern Mindanao.

“Based on our registry, of the 1,084 Filipinos now in Syria five of them come from Northern Mindanao. There might be more in the actual head count because in our list, many did not indicate their mailing addresses,” she added.

Bergado did not give the names of the workers, but said one came from Bukidnon, one from Misamis Occidental, and three from Misamis Oriental. Except for one from Misamis Oriental, all of the five workers are male, she said.

The official noted that 90 percent of the Filipinos deployed in Syria are working as household workers and that most of them are undocumented.

On August 16, the Department of Foreign Affairs raised the alert level over Syria to level III after 19 persons were killed in the August 14 attack on the main Mediterranean port city of Latakia by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

With the alert level III, the Filipino migrant workers in Syria have been advised to leave the country with the cost of repatriation to be shouldered by government.

For her part, Ann Apasra Abas, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Regional Extension Unit 10 regional director, said in an interview here Wednesday that they have stopped deploying workers to Syria.

“Syria is a restricted market because of its economic situation and working conditions. We have not processed any deployment for vacationing workers bound for Syria,” Abas said.

Under alert level III, she said that a “total deployment ban” is being enforced.

“We are not processing new workers and rehires (vacationing workers) for Syria,” she said.

Bergado advised that should the political unrest in the country escalate further their last “link of defense will be the Philippine Embassy in Syria.”

The Philippine Embassy in Syria is at Mezza Villat Garbiyeh, Saraya Square Hamze IBN, Abdul Mutalib St., Building 56, Damascus.

However, Bergado assured they do not distinguish between members and non-members in extending OWWA’s assistance.

“Tabangan sila whether OWWA member or not, as long as they are Filipinos and they need help from the Philippine government. The government has activated its Quick Response Team in Syria and our embassy there is open and ready to accept them in the even the political unrest there would escalate further,” she said.

On August 17, she said, they reactivated the Regional Crises Monitoring and Quick Response Team and have started disbursing cash aids to dependents of the workers trapped in Syria.

“We offer free call services for families and dependents here to their relatives. They can avail these free calls here in our office from 12 noon to 8pm (we are ahead of Syria by five hours) every day including weekends,” Bergado said. “However, to be sensitive to religious holidays we are closed on August 28,” she added.

“We have also started disbursing the P10,000 cash assistance upon showing of membership IDs. For non-members, copies of passports and other repatriation documents would suffice. We know this is a modest sum but it is just a ‘stop-gap’ amount,” she said. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)