MANILA: Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has vowed to bring home a group of Filipino migrant workers trafficked to Syria. He also said he would investigate the reportedly poor conditions in which they have been kept at the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
Locsin’s announcement follows a report published earlier this week in the Washington Post about at least 35 Filipinos who were recruited to work in the UAE but instead were sold to Syrian servitude and subject to abuse.
Some of those interviewed by the daily said they had arrived in the UAE on 30-day tourist visas. They claimed the recruitment agencies that brought them to the Gulf locked them up until their visas expired, and then they were sold for between $8,000 and $10,000 and taken to Syria.
Those who managed to escape sought refuge at the Philippine mission in Damascus. Some of them reported abuse at the hands of embassy staff.
“I am emptying the shelters of all wards — no later than the next flight out; sending a team to do it. It won’t happen again,” Locsin said in a series of tweets, as he thanked the Washington Post for the report on Tuesday.
“Oh hell. I will wring the necks of those in the Philippine Embassy in Damascus who failed to report this. My President will expect no less from me. Hell is coming,” Locsin said in another tweet.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Monday night that it is taking the Washington Post report seriously.
“Certain personnel have been administratively investigated and a human rights lawyer has been deployed to further look into the allegations of poor treatment of Filipino victims while under temporary shelter and to recommend other necessary actions to be taken,” it said, adding that it is providing legal assistance to all who are “trafficking victims and face penalties for being in Syria illegally.”
According to DFA, 12 of the Filipinos currently at the embassy in Damascus will be repatriated this month.
The Philippines banned sending Filipino workers to Syria in 2011.
According to Locsin, undocumented workers are trafficked mainly from Mindanao as tourists to neighboring visa-free ASEAN countries, from where they are sent to other places “under deployment ban and thereby to living hell.”
“Filipinos who end up trafficked into Syria face grave risk to life and limb,” Locsin said on Wednesday. “Undocumented women workers specially targeted. Physical recruiters are bad enough but applying via social media platforms is suicide.”