Filipinos refuse to leave strife-torn parts of Middle East and North Africa unless there is an imminent threat to their lives there, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.
The official, who refused to be identified, told The Manila Times that the work of repatriating Filipino workers from conflict-torn countries in the two regions becomes harder once Filipinos resist the initial urge to leave the countries.
The recent disputes in the region, particularly in the past two years, have also seriously dampened the Assistance-to-Nationals (ATN) fund of the department.
“But that [ATN fund] can be replenished. What [the department]finds hard is asking these Filipinos to come home when there are situations there that demand [the need for them to be repatriated],” the official said.
Since 2011, the department has repatriated thousands of Filipinos from the strife-torn countries of Libya, Egypt and Syria because of the revolutionary wave called the “Arab Spring” against autocratic leaders of the said nations.
The department is still calling on some 3,000 Filipinos who remain in Syria despite the political insecurity there.
The official said one of the problems is that it becomes harder for the embassy there to keep tabs of where these Filipinos are. They have asked their relatives who are in the Philippines for the contact information of these Filipinos.
When the protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started in March 2011, there are believed to be some 10,000 to 11,000 Filipinos in Syria. About 90 percent of this number is believed to be undocumented.
The official lamented, however, that some, if not most, Filipinos refuse to leave the countries unless they are in the middle of the conflict already.
“It’s harder for them to leave because they are so afraid of what’s waiting for them here. [So unless] there are bombs [exploding]outside their places of work or where they live . . . ,” the official said.
The Philippine government, through the Labor department, has promised to provide livelihood program trainings and even provide about P10,000 (for repatriates from Libya in 2011) so they begin their lives anew in the country.
But according to the official, most of the repatriates are still willing to come back to these countries once the situation stabilizes.
“That is not hard for us [department]to understand. They get better salaries there, and they can provide more for their families,” the official said.
Still, when it comes to situations that might put their lives on danger, the official hoped these Filipinos would allow the department “to do our job.” BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON