Last updated: 31 December, 2011

Philippine Foreign Minister steps up Syria repatriation efforts

The Philippine foreign minister will fly to Syria to help speed up the repatriation of Filipinos from the strife-torn country, a statement said Saturday.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario will depart on a Qatar Airways flight to Damascus late Saturday to make sure that the repatriation of Filipinos “can be made as secure as possible”, the ministry said in a statement.

“During this visit to Syria, we will seek the cooperation and assistance of Syrian officials in ensuring the safety of our people there,” del Rosario was quoted as saying in the statement.

“We will also meet with Filipino community leaders to effect the widest dissemination of repatriation (plans), visit exit points and assess the security situation and contingency plans,” he added.

Earlier this month, the foreign department offered to fly back all of the 5,000 Filipinos working in Syria as it called for “mandatory repatriation” in the face of the deadly protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

About 56 Filipinos, responding to this warning, are due to arrive from Syria later Saturday, the ministry said.

Since as early as April, Manila has been urging its nationals in Syria — most of them domestic helpers — to leave due to the worsening political violence. While some heeded the warning, others have insisted on staying on.

The Philippines is a major labour-exporting country, with about 10 percent of its 94 million population working abroad, many as maids, seamen, construction workers and labourers.