The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assured overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that the government would work to repatriate anyone who needed to go home, for as long as there were available quarantine facilities.
“Repatriation is for everyone. Even if you have the money to pay for your ticket, if you really need to come home, please let us know, and we will do our best to try to increase the flights, so long as we have a quarantine facility waiting for them,” said Foreign Undersecretary Sarah Arriola in a press briefing on Wednesday, June 23.
However, Arriola clarified that while the DFA “does not cherry-pick (hindi namimili)” who gets to avail repatriation services, priority is given to pregnant women and those who need medical assistance.
The DFA said it has enough resources to help stranded OFWs with immigration and overstaying penalty fines.
The Philippines has an ongoing ban on travelers from the UAE and six other countries until June 30, in a bid to stem transmission of the Delta COVID-19 variant.
Returning Filipinos (RFs) and OFWs included in government repatriations are not part of this ban. But Filipinos who have been booking flights on their own have faced cancellations and overstaying woes.
Arriola said there were scheduled repatriation flights on June 30 and July 17. If enough quarantine facilities open up, they can add another flight in between, she said.
The DFA said there are currently 35,000 rooms available for quarantine purposes in the Philippines, but because Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) policy requires returning Filipinos to quarantine for 10 to 14 days, the 35,000 rooms get exhausted quickly.
“Madali magpalipad, pero kung wala tayong paglalagyan – at hindi naman natin puwedeng i-shorten 'yung quarantine yung mga nasa Pilipinas. You know how the Delta variant wreaks havoc. But we’ll do our best, especially if magbubukas 'yung ibang hotels sa ibang panig ng Pilipinas,” said Arriola.
(It is easy to fly people home, but if we have nowhere to put them – and we can’t just shorten the quarantine of those in the Philippines. You know how the Delta variant wreaks havoc. But we’ll do our best, especially if more hotels open in other parts of the country.)
Senators have urged pandemic officials to find a “middle ground” on quarantine rules for RFs, citing Cebu’s previously modified guidelines for the sector. Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia earlier issued an executive order requiring RFs to go on hotel quarantine for only two to three days with swabbing upon arrival.