PH gov't brings home survivors of trafficking, illegal recruitment from Syria

Published June 27, 2021, 1:35 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The Philippine government has successfully repatriated the last batch of overseas Filipinos who were victims of trafficking in persons and illegal recruitment from Syria.

The last batch of Filipino survivors of trafficking and illegal recruitment from Syria shortly before their departure in Damascus (PE Syria)

“Today, 22 survivors of trafficking in persons (TIP) and illegal recruitment from Syria arrived in the Philippines after lengthy diplomatic negotiations with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the filing of cases versus illegal recruiters and human traffickers, the Philippine Embassy in Syria said in a statement following the arrival of the 22 survivors at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Saturday, June 26, 2021.

With the arrival of the last batch of trafficking and illegal recruitment survivors, the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) Shelter at the Philippine Embassy in Syria has been finally emptied out of all wards

“Sa wakas uuwi na po kami. Akala namin wala na kaming pag-asa makauwi pero salamt po sa DFA at sa Philippine Embassy sa Syria (At last we are coming home. We already lost hope that we can be repatriated but we are thankful to DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Syria,” one of the female repatriates said shortly before departing Syria onboard a return flight to Manila.

She recalled the ordeal that they went through in the shelter for nearly three years due to the difficulties in securing their exit visas from the employers and the recruitment agencies.

Charge d’Affaires Vida Versoza was dispatched by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in February this year to help the trafficked Filipinos who were reportedly maltreated inside the Embassy shelter.

In her previous meetings with the Syrian government, Versoza requested that a Presidential pardon be granted to the Filipinas so they will no longer be held liable for their cases such as false charges of theft. After the successful negotiations, the exit visas of overseas Filipinos were expedited.

Versoza thanked the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Interior of Syria for the assistance it has given the Philippines as well as for its desire for cooperation to improve the conditions of Filipino workers.

According to the Embassy, the repatriates were also continually assisted in holding the illegal recruiters in the Philippines, Malaysia, Dubai and Syria accountable through the assistance of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and the Blas Ople Policy Center.

These agencies and organizations under IACAT helped the overseas Filipinos to file and prosecute cases of illegal recruitment and trafficking in persons against the persons who perpetrated the crime against them.

Volunteer lawyers and law students from Ateneo De Naga University College of Law provided free legal assistance and assisted the victims in preparing their complaint affidavits and evidence packets against the criminal syndicates.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has referred the cases of the trafficked Filipinas to the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration as part of the community reintegration program as soon as they arrive at their respective local government units after their quarantine period.

Further, the Embassy has vowed to pursue strengthening the rule of law and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, consistent with our obligations under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and regular Migration.

In January this year, Locsin Jr. relieved several key officers of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, following allegations of “poor treatment” of Filipino trafficking victims staying in the embassy shelter in Syria.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said on Twitter the embassy’s new staff will also “serve as reinforcements for Filipino trafficking victims in Syria.”