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Amid violence workers told to leave Syria

MANILA (UCAN) : The Philippine government has appealed to more than 4,000 Filipinos in Syria to return home amid reports of escalating violence there.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda issued the appeal on January 3 after receiving reports that many Filipinos are still refusing to leave despite several warnings.

“We would like to ask the Filipinos in Syria—whether they are documented or undocumented—to heed our appeal,” he said.

“Foreign Affairs secretary, Albert del Rosario is there right now and we would like to ask them to cooperate for their own safety. We want to make sure that all Filipinos are accounted for,” he added.

Del Rosario said at the end of December that he had sent a senior diplomat to Syria to oversee efforts by the embassy to convince the 4,557 registered Filipinos to return home at the government’s expense.

The government has so far repatriated 434 people since the start of the crisis in Syria in March.

Migrant rights group Migrante, meanwhile, said the government’s statement that Filipinos in Syria are refusing to leave was not entirely true.

The group’s chairperson Gary Martinez said there were at least 70 stranded people in temporary shelters in Lattakia and Damascus who could be repatriated immediately.

Martinez said 95 per cent of Filipino workers in Syria are undocumented, so the embassy must conduct more active repatriation efforts for overseas workers than it did in Libya.

“A clear evacuation plan should now be in place. Unlike in Libya, where overseas Filipino workers were located in construction sites and hospitals, most overseas Filipino workers in Syria are household-based. This requires house-to-house efforts from embassy officials to secure their safety,” he said.