MANILA – Filipino workers trying to flee the unrest in Syria are being charged up to $10,000 by their employers before they can leave, the Foreign Department in Manila said Tuesday.
Syrian employers are demanding that they be refunded large amounts they paid for the deployment of Filipinos, Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters. “The problem now is the employers are asking more money for the refund of the deployment cost. Before it was only $4,000 per worker and now it’s even reaching up to $10,000,” he said.
Hernandez said the embassy often had to negotiate with the employers to accept a lower amount because the workers could not afford to pay that much.
Another problem is that Filipino workers are continuing to arrive in Syria, brought in by illegal labor recruiters, despite the violence plaguing the country, he said warning people not to be “duped” by offers of high-paying jobs.
The Philippines has already repatriated over 1,800 Filipinos from Syria but is still processing the papers for more than 1,000 others, Hernandez said.
The increasing violence was making it harder to get them out, he said, as he appealed to all Filipinos in Syria to go to the embassy and seek help to be repatriated.
In June, the government estimated that there were 7,000 Filipinos in Syria, many of them working as domestic helpers.
The Philippine government banned Filipinos from working in Syria and ordered a mandatory evacuation of its nationals there in December, some 10 months after an uprising against the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad broke out.
About nine million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money in a wide range of skilled and unskilled jobs abroad than they could in their impoverished homeland.
Sri Lankan domestic helpers faced a similar precarious situation when Israeli bombs pounded Lebanon in 2006. According to a July 2006 BBC report, some 80,000 Sri Lankans and 30,000 Filipino migrant workers were stranded and left to fend for themselves.
Many of these workers tried to flee when their employers refused to help or pay them their dues. They were sitting ducks for Israeli warplanes.
A similar evacuation crisis was witnessed during the Libyan uprising, after which the Fourth Ministerial Consultations of the Labor Sending Countries in Asia (known as the Colombo Process), recommended the formulation of standing operating procedures (SOPs) for the protection of migrant workers. SOPs provide for the necessary institutional structures and contingency planning required in order to address similar situations in the future.
The Colombo Process member states also recommended establishing a formal funding mechanism.
The 4th Geneva Convention stipulates that foreign workers caught in a conflict zone are entitled to leave the area unless their departure is contrary to the national interests of the state.
The convention also states that the workers leaving the conflict zone must get necessary funds for their journey and take with them a reasonable amount of their effects and articles for personal use. – Agencies