KUWAIT – Thirty-five overseas Filipino workers caught in the violence in Aleppo, Syria are now in the custody of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
Lilibeth Sarabe was among those who fled Aleppo where she spent almost three years working as a janitress at the Martini Hospital.
“Naranasan ko hindi po biro. Natutulog po kami, may bomba na po sa ilalim ng building namin, eh nasa underground po kami, dalawa kaming Pilipina,” Sarabe said.
Sarabe said even patients from the upper floors of the hospital join them when bombings happen.
“Bago po binomba na naman, labas na naman po kami. Mas mahirap po yung kalagayan namin. Nandyan na yung machine gun, dala ng mga eroplano na jet na mga pagsabog, sunud-sunod, hindi naming alam kung saan kami,” she said.
The 41-year old OFW from Cavite is a widow with nine children and eight grandchildren.
“Uwi na po ako, gusto ko pang makita mga apo [ko]. Kailangan makita ko mga apo ko. Huwag silang mag-alala, sa tulong ng Philippine Embassy makakauwi kami, sana makauwi na kami,” she said.
Sarabe was brought to the Philippine Consulate in Aleppo by an agent of her recruiter.
Another OFW, Hazel Paglinawan, was placed under the custody of the Philippine embassy when her employer fled to Turkey.
“Sa amin po, sa Salaheddin, yung gyera po sa tabi naming. Yung amo ko po umalis papunta ng Turkey dahil sa takot nila, tapos hinatid po nila ako sa Philippine Embassy dahil umalis sila,” said Paglinawan.
The 18-year old Cotabato City native had been working as a household service worker in Aleppo for three years, which means that she was only 15 when she first arrived in Syria.
Meanwhile, “Raida” of Esperanza, Cotabato, is thankful to the embassy for helping her get out of Aleppo.
“Nagpapasalamat kami sa Philippine Embassy, kung hindi dahil sa kanila hindi kami makakauwi,” she said.
Ambassador Ricardo Endaya, head of the Philippine Rapid Response Team, could not give an exact figure of the number of OFWs in Syria, as most of them were brought by their employers to nearby countries of Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon to escape the violence.
However, Endaya estimates that there are still about 600 OFWs in Aleppo and more than 2,000 in Damascus.
There are still 15 OFWs now at the Honorary Consulate in Aleppo. Honorary Consul General Wassim Nanaa is waiting for more Pinoys who wish to leave Aleppo.
“Ang sinabi ko sa kanya, pag ligtas ang daan papuntang airport, maaring ipadala ang mga Pilipino sa Damascus at dito na lang namin ikukuha sila ng exit permit. Hangga't maari, mailigtas muna natin ang mga Pilipino habang nagkaroon ng medyo lull in fighting,” Endaya said.
There are now 118 wards at the Philippine embassy in Damascus waiting to be repatriated.
“Samantalahin na natin ang repatriation program ng ating pamahalaan dahil talagang delikado ang kalagayan dito sa bansang ito, very fluid, at hindi natin malalaman kung kelan magkakagulo sa isang lugar dahil basta na lang sumusulpot ang mga rebelde at makikipagbakbakan sa government forces baka ma caught in the crossfire ang ating mga kababayan, kaya dapat they have to take advantage of the repatriation program,” he said.
Endaya’s team is still waiting for the go signal of the Syrian government to proceed to Aleppo.
“Plano namin bukas makikipagmeeting kami sa Ministry of Foreign Affairs at ipapaliwanag namin ang dahilan kung bakit kinakailangan naming magtungo sa Aleppo,” he said.
He added that Aleppo is now off limits to diplomats and foreigners due to the ongoing conflict.
“Pero ipapaliwanag namin na ang aming main pakay doon ay tulungan ang mga Pilipino lumikas na mula Aleppo pauwi ng Maynila,” he said.