Why 3,300 Pinoys refuse to leave Syria

Paterno Esmaquel II
Higher wages hold back potential repatriates, the DFA says

RECEIVING AID. A picture made available on August 23, 2013 shows Iraqi Kurdish soldiers distributing food to Syrian refugees at the camp of Kawergost in Erbil, northern Iraq, August 22, 2013. Photo by Kamal Akrayi/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – Lured by higher salaries, among others, over 3,000 Filipinos in Syria have refused repatriation despite the threat of a US attack on the conflict-stricken country, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday, September 5.

In an interview with reporters, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said 3,333 Filipinos remain in Syria, even as US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, September 4, cleared the first hurdle in his race to win domestic congressional backing for the planned attack on Syria.

READ: Syria strike: Obama clears first hurdle

“Some of them have actually chosen to stay, but their minds keep changing every day, so we’ll see what happens,” Del Rosario added. He said the government is “working on trying to repatriate them.” (Watch more in the video below.)

The DFA said the number of repatriates from Syria will reach 4,636 by Friday, September 6. The agency said 23 repatriates arrived from Syria on Thursday, while 45 more will arrive on Friday.

OFWs’ uncertainties

Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, whom Del Rosario earlier sent to oversee repatriation efforts, said higher pay is one of the reasons Filipinos refuse to leave.

READ: PH sends senior diplomat to Syria amid planned attack

Number one, tinaasan ang suweldo nila. Pangalawa, pinangakuan sila ng, ‘Huwag kayong matatakot, okay ‘to,’” Seguis said in an interview on Thursday. (Number one, their employers raised their salaries. Second, it was promised to them: “Don’t be afraid, this is going to be fine.”)

He said Filipinos in Syria also express uncertainty about returning. (Watch more in the video below.)

Seguis said: “Pangatlo, sabi nila, ‘Ano pong gagawin namin pag-uwi namin? Mabuti kayo may trabaho. Kami, ano, nag-aaral ang mga anak namin, nasa kolehiyo. Sinong gagastos sa kanila?‘” (Third, they say, “What will we do when we return? Good for you; you have a job. What about us? We send our children to school; they’re now in college. Who will shoulder their expenses?”)

The Philippine government has ordered its citizens to leave Syria since 2012, but the number of repatriates has remained for months at around 4,000.

The DFA on Monday, September 2, again warned Filipinos “to get out of harm’s way and seek immediate repatriation.”

READ: Flee Syria, Pinoys warned amid planned attack

The situation in Syria has alarmed world leaders, including Pope Francis, who has called for a day of prayer and fasting for Syria on Saturday, September 7. Philippine parishes have pledged to participate.

READ: Manila to join day of prayer for Syria

with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.