MANILA – A total of 22 trafficking and illegal recruitment victims were repatriated from Syria after "lengthy diplomatic negotiations" with the Syrian government, the Philippine Embassy in Damascus said Saturday.
"For the first time in history, the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) Shelter of the Embassy shall be fully emptied out of all the wards -- they just landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on 26 June 2021," it said in a statement.
The embassy said cases have also been filed against the victim's recruiters and human traffickers, under the helm of Chargé d'Affaires Vida Soraya Verzosa.
“Sa wakas, uuwi na po kami. Akala namin wala na kaming pag-asa makauwi pero salamat 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 the Department of Foreign Affairs and to the Philippine Embassy in Syria)," one of the wards told the Embassy, after recalling that they were in the shelter for nearly three years due to the difficulties in securing their exit visas from the employers and the recruitment agencies.
The Embassy did not name the Filipina.
The successful repatriation is the fulfillment of the marching orders of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. last January 26, where he said: “I am emptying the shelters of all wards -- no later than next flight out; sending a team to do it. It won’t happen again.”
Verzosa requested in her previous meetings that a presidential pardon be granted to the Filipinas so they will no longer be liable for their cases, i.e. false charges of theft. Following these negotiations, the embassy said the processing of their exit visas was expedited.
The envoy, for her part, thanked the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Interior of Syria, saying their assistance "is akin to a gift from Syria to Republic of the Philippines for strengthening of the bilateral relations and their desire for cooperation to improve the conditions of workers."
The Blas Ople Policy Center and several agencies under the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) helped the repatriates file cases against their recruiters in the Philippines, Malaysia, Dubai, and Syria.
They were also given free legal assistance by volunteer lawyers and students from the Ateneo de Naga University who prepared their complaint-affidavits and evidence packets against the criminal syndicates.
After the five-member team of diplomatic staff was sent to the embassy, the victims were also assisted in filing cases in Syria against the anomalous transactions of recruitment agencies and abusive employers through the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and the Office of the Presidential Advisor of the Syrian Arab Republic.
"This historic repatriation is part of the commitment of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, as an IACAT member agency, to arrest, investigate, and prosecute all human traffickers and illegal recruiters combat the heinous crime of trafficking in persons, and assist the trafficking survivors in granting opportunities for a new life and a new hope, upon their arrival in the Philippines," the embassy said.
The DFA has now referred their cases to the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to include them in the community reintegration program once they arrive at their local government units after quarantine.
"The embassy believes we are stronger when we work together, so we thank the government of the Syrian Arab Republic for the excellent partnership with different Ministries. The Embassy is committed to DFA programs on protecting the rights of distressed Overseas Filipinos," the Embassy said. (PNA)