How to boost efficiency of evacuating OFWs in war-torn countries

Published February 21, 2022, 12:04 AM

by Jun Concepcion


Jun Concepcion

Strategies and measures that the government now uses to bring home Filipinos in war-torn countries, including those in Ukraine that Russia may attack soon, border on laughable and absurd.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay’s remarks to the media last week sums up the government’s position.

“Filipinos in Ukraine should contact us if they wish to be repatriated home. If they don’t contact us, what can we do?” he said. “We’re trying to reach them through available means, including Facebook. If they don’t contact us, how do we know how to reach them?”

At face value, the government’s position looks sound enough.

But even a cursory scrutiny immediately reveals its folly.  Clearly, the government’s passive and lackadaisical strategy raises more questions than answers.

Since the country doesn’t have any embassy or consulate in Ukraine, how effective are efforts to reach out and convince Filipinos in that country to go home? Hardly. And this explains why very few Filipinos in Ukraine have so far come home despite US President Joe Biden’s repeated warnings of an imminent Russia attack of its next-door neighbor.
Analysts believe thousands will die when Russia attacks using over 130,000 soldiers and its most lethal war planes, tanks, artilleries and other weaponry.

Dulay estimates the number of Filipinos across Ukraine at more than 300 but the actual number will increase further since the government doesn’t have an accurate tab.

Without any government official on the ground in Ukraine, who will organize and  arrange OFWs’  departure from that country?

Will they travel by foot or hitch a ride to escape the looming violence?

Is asking European countries next to Ukraine to open their doors to fleeing Filipinos enough for them to get out safely and fly back home?

To get a clearer picture of the tragedy that awaits Filipinos in Ukraine, watch a war movie on YouTube. Look for scenes in which civilians are caught between two opposing armies shooting at each other.

Some OFWs have already died in conflict zones overseas. In March 2015, four OFWs were abducted by Islamic State extremists in Libya. They were later executed and a video of their execution was later found in a laptop seized from ISIS fighters in 2017.
Horrific deaths of OFWs may well be repeated unless the government formulates a holistic and forward-looking strategy and measures on how OFWs in conflict zones are evacuated safely and flown home.

I recommend the following inputs which, I believe, will go a long way to boost the efficiency of the evacuation and repatriation of OFWs in war-torn areas:

1] Launch a sustained media campaign in the Philippines and ask family members of OFWs in war-torn countries for the latter to come home

In Ukraine’s case, most Filipinos there have contacts with family members back home. So why not ask kin back home to persuade OFWs to come home and avoid getting killed? This strategy will produce much better and faster results than what’s being used now by government, i.e. reaching out to and persuading OFWs to come home. Simple common sense should be employed here. An OFW will listen more to impassioned pleas of his/her children or mother more than a bureaucrat. The government can easily use state-owned radio and TV stations, social media and assistance of privately-owned media outfits.

2] Before any conflict or civil war erupts in a country which hosts Filipinos, DFA officials there should alert Manila about that brewing disorder
Thereafter, officials in Manila should be given regular updates, quarterly, monthly or even weekly depending on evolving developments. If this strategy is adopted, Manila gets a longer lead time to prepare for contingencies for OFWs.

3] All Philippine embassies and consulates abroad should entice all Filipino nationals, documented or not, to register online
For what purpose? So registrants are immediately notified about government aid and other services.  Unless incentives are offered, OFWs will ignore registration advisories. This registration scheme will effectively enable the government to determine the number of Filipinos in each country or territory.

4] Social media, especially Facebook, should be used extensively for information campaigns
Since most OFWs often use Facebook to communicate with family members back home and friends, this same medium should be used. Facebook posts can be as short as two to three sentences, and are therefore easy to make.

5] Three to four embassy/consulate staff should each take three- to four-hour shifts to monitor and respond to meesages sent to the social media page
Any official website or social media page is useless unless it is manned regularly by someone who responds promptly and regularly, especially if messages are urgent and important.

6] If social media interactions are regular between an embassy and the Pinoy community that it serves, this medium will help a lot during emergencies, such as immediate mobilization and departure from a war-torn country

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