overseas Filipinos

DFA probes embassy staff in Syria for mistreatment of trafficked OFWs

Sofia Tomacruz

TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr at the Department of Foreign Affairs in June 2020.

File photo from DFA

'Hell is coming,' warns Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) launched an investigation into the alleged abuse of trafficked overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) at the Philippine embassy in Damascus, Syria.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said he would meet with a “handful” of individuals “in the know” on Tuesday, January 26, to tackle the issue.

“No one will be spared however influential. I will protect our Muslim sisters at all costs,” he tweeted.

In a separate statement, the DFA said it took allegations of OFWs’ abuse at the hands of embassy personnel “seriously.” The allegations were first reported by the Washington Post.

The Washington Post story, entitled “Sold Into Syrian Servitude, Filipina Workers Tell of Abuse, Rape and Imprisonment,” recounts the ordeal of Filipino women who were recruited to work in the United Arab Emirates but later trafficked to Syria. Far from where they hoped to make a living, the trafficked OFWs said their employers physically and sexually abused them and denied them the salaries they were promised.

Upon fleeing their employers’ homes and seeking shelter at the Philippine embassy in Damascus, not all OFWs were “greeted with sanctuary they hoped for,” reported the Washington Post. Living conditions were poor, phones were sometimes confiscated, and common punishment included denying OFWs breakfast for two weeks for sneaking extra food from the kitchen. 

The DFA said “certain personnel” were administratively investigated while a human rights lawyer was directed to “further look into the allegations of poor treatment” of Filipino workers. The lawyer, the agency added, is expected to recommend “other necessary actions to be taken.”

Locsin also warned that “hell is coming” for embassy personnel who supposedly did not report the alleged abuse to the DFA’s central office in the Philippines.

“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,” he said.

The DFA said it is taking measures to ensure the well-being of trafficked Filipinos. Aside from this, the agency’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs is also negotiating with the Filipinos’ employers and the Syrian government to secure their exit visas and other clearance fees.

Three OFWs have been repatriated as of December 2020, while 12 more are scheduled to return to the Philippines this month. On Tuesday, Locsin said he would send a team to empty shelters “no later than next flight out.”

The DFA said, “The Philippines will always seek to protect all Filipino migrant workers against all forms of exploitation and abuse.” – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.