First batch of OFWs victimized in Syria successfully repatriated

* Bong Go calls on gov’t to protect Filipinos from human trafficking, renews push for DOFil

After a grueling battle for repatriation, six Filipino migrants who were victims of human trafficking in Syria, safely returned to the Philippines on Saturday, February 7, following support and assistance from President Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other concerned government agencies.

“Nagpapasalamat po kami kay Pangulong Duterte at Senator Bong Go dahil napakalaki ng tulong ng ibinigay nila para sa pagsisimulang muli namin ng buhay sa bansa,” said one of the migrant workers whose name could not he disclosed at this time given the ongoing case.

“Maliban po sa tulong, naramdaman naming hindi kami iniwan ng pamahalaan, lalo na nina Pangulong Duterte at Senator Go,” they added.

Aside from official government aid, Go’s office also extended additional assistance to the OFWs and their families.

“Parte po ito ng kalinga at malasakit programs para sa ating OFWs na suportado namin ni Pangulong Duterte,” said Go.

He also said that the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking or IACAT is working with the victims so trafficking cases can be filed against the perpetrators.

“Dapat lamang po na papanagutin ang mga human traffickers na ito dahil mga salot sila sa ating OFWs. Hirap na hirap na nga ang mga kababayan natin, may mga nangsasamantala at nambibiktima pa,” he said.

“Ayaw ko talagang makitang merong mga OFWs natin na naaabuso, lalo na nasa malalayong lugar sila. Sa mga nang-aabuso ng kapwa tao, dapat sa inyo putulan ng…!,” he exclaimed.

The IACAT has launched last year the digitized Integrated Case Management System to manage and ensure coordinated government action against the trafficking of OFWs.

The OFWs, repatriated through Etihad Airlines, included six out of 35 migrant workers in Syria who were victims of human trafficking. They were welcomed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Undersecretary of Migrant Workers Affairs, the Presidential Management Staff, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Senator Go.

The Office of the President and DFA provided financial and other forms of assistance to the repatriated OFWs. The Office of Senator Go also extended aid and vowed to provide additional support.

According to the information posted by the Philippine Embassy in Syria, the services of Syrian lawyers were already engaged to file cases against the individuals reportedly behind the trafficking of OFWs in the country. Other victims are being processed at this time so they can also be repatriated back home.

The embassy also expressed its concern on several matters related to the repatriation of trafficked Filipinos, such as securing an exit visa from their ‘kafeel’ or employer even after paying already for their flight and fines imposed by the Syrian immigration office.

Some of the victims, according to reports, have been in the embassy facility for as long as two years because they cannot secure exit visas and airfares back to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the DFA is currently conducting an administrative investigation against certain officers and personnel of the embassy who reportedly failed to act on the concerns of the trafficking victims. DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. sent a new team to Syria to overhaul the personnel at the embassy.

Earlier, Go has expressed his grave concern over the reported trafficking of some Filipino women forcibly taken to Syria and abused by their employers, saying that this is one of the reasons why he is bent on pushing for the passage of a bill that will establish the Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil) that will better protect their rights and advance their welfare.

“Bagong bayani kung ituring natin sila na halos sampung porsiyento ng ating populasyon. Sana naman ay suklian natin nang mas maayos at mas mabilis na serbisyo ang kanilang sakripisyo para sa kanilang pamilya at sa bayan,” Go said in a statement.

The bill creating the DOFil is one of the priority measures of the present administration as mentioned numerous times by President Rodrigo Duterte, including in his last two State of the Nation Addresses. The President recently certified this most recent version filed by Go as urgent. It is also one of the top twenty priority measures identified by both houses of Congress this year.

“One of the main features of my proposed DOFil bill is the one country-team approach,” Go noted, stating that this requires all officials in Philippine diplomatic posts to act together as one team, regardless of their mother agencies, in the country of assignment, in protecting the rights and advancing the welfare of Filipino migrant workers there, with guidance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Foreign Service Posts.

The proposed department can also initiate and help prosecute human trafficking cases in coordination with the Department of Justice. Go added that overseas Filipinos in distress may swiftly be provided with assistance due to the one country-team approach.

“Kung in distress ang isang Pilipino abroad, kadalasan, hindi nila alam kung saan lalapit para humingi ng tulong. Minsan sa radyo, meron sa Facebook. Pero kung merong one country-team approach tayo, alam ng mga kababayan nating humihingi ng tulong kung saan pupunta,” he said.

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