overseas Filipinos

OFW trafficked to Syria: We emailed PH officials for help for 2 years

Michelle Abad

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OFW trafficked to Syria: We emailed PH officials for help for 2 years

'ALICE.' An overseas Filipino worker explains to Senator Risa Hontiveros' office on March 14, 2021, how she was trafficked to Damascus, Syria with the aid of BI officials.

Courtesy of Senator Risa Hontiveros' office

Charge d' Affaires Vida Verzosa from the Philippine embassy in Damascus says the agency lied about the working conditions of the now-repatriated OFW, prolonging her stay in Syria

An overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was trafficked to Damascus, Syria, said in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, May 4, that Philippine officials in the Middle East country kept her and other distressed OFWs in the dark for two years.

Alice, not her real name, was trafficked to Damascus for at least two years. (READ: OFW says immigration officers involved in trafficking her to Syria)

On May 1, Alice was brought back to the Philippines along with Marites Pantonal, another trafficked woman who was imprisoned in Syria for simply asking her employer if she could go back home after her husband died.

Calling for help

According to Alice, she and other distressed OFWs in Syria were in a group chat which included officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) migrant workers office and a former ambassador.

Meron isang advocate sa group chat namin [na] tinuruan kami na gumawa ng email para magsalaysay kami at ipasa sa gobyerno mga hinaing namin. Pero walang nangyari sa mga nagawa naming email. Halos dalawang taon kami nag-email,” said Alice.

(There was an advocate in our group chat who taught us how to email and give statements of our concerns to the government. But nothing happened to those emails. We emailed for two years.)

Alice said of all the emails she sent, only the Civil Service Commission answered with a confirmation of her repatriation.

However, her repatriation was delayed when she received another email from a “Ms Arriola” (presumably Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Arriola). That email said Alice “took back” her repatriation.

Alice said her husband’s name was also on the email, but it did not have his signature. Her husband asked her if she indeed took back her repatriation. She said she did not know about any recall.

According Charge d’ Affaires Vida Verzosa of the Philippine embassy in Damascus, there was a “miscommunication” with the recruitment agency. This agency reportedly lied to Philippine authorities that Alice had good working conditions and fair wages.

Verzosa said it was the embassy which discovered that the contents of the agency’s letter were false.

In a previous hearing in March, Alice said her employer in Syria bought her for $1,000 from her recruiter.

Other young women in Tuesday’s Senate hearing also testified being trafficked to Syria when they were minors.

“I laud the DFA, particularly the embassy in Damascus, for its swift action after our hearing. While we are grateful that Alice and Marites are no longer in Syria, the DFA should continuously investigate if there are still trafficked Filipinos in the war-torn country who are not yet in their custody,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality.

“Our kababayans, who are possibly also facing brutal treatment from their employers, should all be rescued at once,” she added. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.