KUWAIT – More than a hundred overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are scheduled to be repatriated from strife-torn Syria.
The Philippine Rapid Response Team and Philippine Embassy officials are now working double time to arrange the exit visas of 136 OFWs who are temporarily staying at a halfway house.
“Yung exit visa requirements na-waive na po lahat ‘yan noong dumating po dito, nakipag-usap ako sa mga opisyal dito, at sa magandang loob naman ng Pangulong Assad ay binigyan ng directive ang Immigration Department dito na bigyan na, i-waive iyong exit visa requirements at lahat ng penalties,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis.
The OFWs are set to leave Syria Saturday or Sunday, he said.
Aside from the 136, some 1,404 Filipinos who availed of the government’s repatriation program are still waiting for their exit visas to be processed.
“’Yung iba pa na nakalista doon na 1,404 na gusto din umuwi. Iyan ay ipakiusap muli na bigyan ng waiver of visa requirements,” he said.
But for some OFWs, it is their employers who prevent them leaving. Just like the case of Kathryn Importante, and OFW from Cotabato City.
Importante is currently at Yafour, some 30 minutes away from the embassy. She said she called up the embassy last week, but up until now, no one came to fetch her.
Although she wants to leave, she’s afraid of the many checkpoints around the city as both her passport and visa have expired.
“Natatakot po ako. Medyo magulo po kasi. Nananawagan po ako na sana matulungan po ako makauwi na, makausap po iyong amo ko. Kahit na hindi po pumayag sana po makuha na po ako kasi natatakot na din po ako,” said Importante who has been working in Syria for four years now.
On the other hand, there are also others who decided to take matters in their own hands instead of waiting for help to arrive.
“Mahirap na rin magkagipitan dito. Kaya maigi na lumabas na tayo. Syempre, isa lang ang buhay natin dito. Hindi naman nagdadalawa ng buhay. Kailangan din natin i-safe ang mga sarili natin kahit papaano,” said Kim Guevara, an OFW from Iloilo City who has been in Syria for 12 years.
More than 2,000 OFWs have been repatriated from Syria since the government implemented its mandatory repatriation program last December. However, there is still an estimated 7,000 OFWs mostly household service workers in Syria.
“Kung nahihirapan sila at gusto na nilang umuwi dahil nahihirapan sila sa sitwasyon dito, kontakin nila ang embassy dito alam nila kung saan sila pupunta at mabigyan ng guidance kung paano ang dapat gagawin. Kasi hindi naman sila dapat din lumayas sa kanilang employer, kasi lalong magkaka-problema tayo sa mga employers, kaya kailangan talaga i-negotiate ng taga-embassy at ng augmentation team dito with the employers para maayos ‘yong pag-uusap para payagan silang makapunta ng embassy bago i-apply ng embassy ang exit visa,” explained Seguis.