41 Pinoys arrived in Manila from Syria

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Some 41 distressed Filipinos arrived in Manila from strife-torn Syria after availing of the Philippine government’s intensified efforts to repatriate all Filipinos there amid the massive clashes between government forces and rebel groups.

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A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the arrival of 41 Filipinos on Tuesday via Etihad Airways flight EY 424 would bring the number of repatriates from Syria since the start of conflict there in 2011 to 4,741.

The 41 Filipinos are part of the batch of 92 Filipinos who were brought to the Syria-Lebanon border by personnel of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus on September 5.

Crossing over to Lebanon through Masna’a, which lies 62 kilometers away from Beirut, is the only way Filipinos may be able to go home.

Fifty-one individuals from the new batch joined 45 other Filipinos who have been staying at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) since August 30 at the Rafik Hariri International Airport later that day.

All in all, 96 Filipinos departed for Manila on two separate flights. They arrived the following day, September 6.

The remaining 41 Filipinos from the batch of 92 were the ones who arrived today.

The department said both its embassies in Damascus and Beirut joined hands in the repatriation of Filipinos from strife-torn Syria “in compliance with the directive of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.”

Philippine Ambassador to Beirut Leah Ruiz expressed satisfaction at the utmost cooperation and excellent teamwork shown by the embassy, Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and officers and staff of Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) “who all pitched in to ensure that the embassy’s job to receive the OFWs from Syria, care for them temporarily in the shelters and ensure their speedy departure out of Lebanon were well executed without a hitch.”

Also, she conveyed the “deepest appreciation of the Philippine government” to the Lebanese government, particularly to the General Security (Immigration), for the excellent cooperation in facilitating the entry of Filipinos from Syria into Lebanon.

Ruiz also reiterated the Philippine government’s warmest gratitude and appreciation to CLMC officials, Eng. Kamal Sioufi and Najla Chahda, “for generously making available a very comfortable shelter for the weary [Filipinos], as well as a mobile clinic, and particularly their three Caritas personnel who provided invaluable assistance, most especially at the Masna’a border and the Caritas shelter.”

The security situation in the country is further deteriorating after the United States government accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against some 1,400 Syrians who died on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

This pushed President Barack Obama to ask the US Congress to vote in favor of launching military strikes against the conflict-torn country, which is situated along the proposed Qatari natural gas pipeline that would affect global oil and gas resources.

The attacks, although the US Congress is not keen to see this happen, can happen anytime within the next seven days.

Russia, America’s Cold War rival, has voiced its support for Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to deploy its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian forces if Obama pushes through with his plans to punish Assad for using chemical weapons.

An imminent war in the Middle East can affect the oil market and may cause prices to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs department advised Filipinso there “to avoid telecommunication facilities, defense establishments, military installations and the like as these places are possible targets of attacks.”

It is believed that less than 3,000 Filipinos are still in Syria.

“We continue to urge our citizens in Syria to immediately contact our embassy in Damascus or our honorary consul in Aleppo for repatriation arrangements. We appeal to the families of OFWs in the Philippines to inform the department of the whereabouts and contact details of their OFWs in Syria,” Hernandez said.

Since clashes began in March 2011, the department has raised crisis alert level 4 there, which entails mandatory repatriation. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON

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