As more Filipina migrants return home from Syria, concern grows for those staying on
Syria - As 80 Filipinas and one Vietnamese flew out of Lebanon's Rafic Hariri airport on Wednesday (30/1/2013) IOM has expressed concern about the situation of thousands of other foreign migrant workers believed to still be inside Syria.
"Many have no means to leave the areas where they are working and risk becoming trapped. Others have no documents and therefore don't have the same level of legal protection accorded to citizens," says IOM Regional Coordinator for Syria, Othman Belbesi.
IOM believes there are as many as 120,000 migrant workers still in Syria, of which 60,000 may be in priority need of assistance for evacuation, transit or border reception, repatriation, health services and psychosocial support.
Some 6,800 stranded migrants have already contacted their embassies and IOM directly to communicate their urgent need for repatriation assistance.
They include vulnerable women at risk from human trafficking, the elderly and sick, and migrants from countries unable to assist their nationals to leave, especially those with no diplomatic representation in Syria.
The Filipina migrants who left Beirut for the Philippines on Wednesday had been working in Syria as domestic helpers for periods ranging from a few years to 30 years and had taken shelter at the Philippines Embassy in Damascus. The embassy was also sheltering a stranded Vietnamese woman.
Felisa, 51, was one of the group. She told IOM that some of her colleagues who decided to stay on in Syria expected the situation to improve. Many did not want to return to the Philippines after working for years in Syria and becoming part of Syrian society.
"I have been living in Syria since 1987, working as a housekeeper for the same family for almost three generations. They call me "grandma" and everyone cried when I decided to leave. My husband passed away many years ago, and my employer sent my only son to an international school in Damascus. I went on vacation to Manila once every two or three years. I considered my employer’s family as mine. They are Muslims and I follow the United Church of Christ. But they never interfered or prevented me from praying. But now we hear shelling around the compound all day long. I cannot go to the Church anymore, because there are gangs and militias in the streets. I want to go home now because I have worked more than enough. It is time for retirement now and I need to pray," she says.
IOM continues to receive requests from embassies to assist in the repatriation of their citizens. It is currently working on requests from the embassies of Sudan, the Philippines, Chad and Yemen to evacuate a total of 443 of their nationals.
A group of 65 vulnerable migrants is currently ready to travel. They will return to Egypt (40), South Sudan (20), Belarus (3), Nigeria (1) and Liberia (1).
To date, IOM, working closely with UNHCR and local partners, has assisted 3, 223 migrant workers from 35 different countries and their families, to safely return to their countries of origin.
IOM’s humanitarian work in Syria and neighbouring countries has received financial support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), Chile, China, Cyprus, Germany, the Philippines, Switzerland, the UK, the US, UNHCR and IOM’s own emergency fund.
In January 2013, IOM appealed for US$ 35 million in its consolidated appeal, including US$13.6 million to fund the repatriation of stranded migrants and provide emergency aid to the internally displaced and other conflict-affected people in Syria. To date, no contribution has been received for activities in Syria under this year’s appeal.
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