MANILA – The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), continues to assist distressed Filipinos abroad through legal assistance and repatriation efforts.
In the first two months of 2020, the agency has repatriated a total of 1,211 distressed Filipinos from Asia as well as the Middle East and Africa.
“The DFA stands ready to bring home people continually. From Middle East and Africa, we repatriated a total of 736 from January to February plus the 445 from Diamond Princess (Japan) and 30 from Wuhan,” DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said in a recent interview.
Most of the repatriates from the Middle East were victims of human trafficking, cases already endorsed to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), she said.
Of the 736 from the Middle East and Africa, at least 315 are from Lebanon, 311 from the United Arab Emirates, 47 from Iraq, 38 from Kuwait, 10 from Saudi Arabia, and 12 from Libya.
Last year, Arriola said the DFA repatriated about 10,000 Filipinos.
“As much as possible, the lesser people we repatriate the better. Since it’s demand-driven, the lesser people who want to be repatriated the better because that means they are not in distress. The bigger your number, that means there’s a problem in the migration cycle,” she said.
Arriola cited some achievements on the protection of Filipinos abroad such as the prosecution of traffickers who victimized three Filipinos in Bahrain this year.
“Nabuwag ‘yong syndicate (The syndicate was dismantled) and we’re thankful to the government of Bahrain for being very proactive,” she said.
The three human trafficking victims were given USD3,000 by Bahrain from its Victims’ Assistance Fund. Their case was referred by the Ople Center to the DFA last year.
“They were made to become sex slaves in Bahrain so there really was a syndicate. They took chance in Dubai where they met a recruiter who brought them to Bahrain. When they got there, they were coerced to become women prostitutes to be able to pay off their tickets to Bahrain and others,” she said.
Aside from helping human trafficking victims and Filipino workers abused by employers, the agency also assisted nationals from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19)-hit countries such as Japan and China.
The repatriation was unique, particularly the operation in Wuhan, as “time is of the essence” to minimize the potential infection of Filipinos there, said Rowell Casaclang, the lead DFA officer of the Wuhan repatriation team.
“The fact is you have a city and a province on lockdown, so we have to understand the feelings of the Filipinos who are there and the entire population of Wuhan and Hubei are in panic. We also have to understand that these people are in distress, they’re in the center of brewing chaos so you cannot really expect them to function well, you really need someone to intervene so that’s the importance of sending people from the government,” he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Casaclang was with two other DFA personnel, Richard de los Santos and Abdul Rahman Pacasum, the Assistance-to-Nationals officer who also assisted Filipinos during the Ebola outbreak.
Doris Deguilmo-Lauron, one of the Wuhan repatriates, on a Facebook post, thanked the government for the “successful” repatriation as she shared her experience in the epicenter of Covid-19 after the unprecedented lockdown of entire Hubei province.
“When other nationalities already started evacuation, we also began to fear for ourselves. Our British friends went off first, then Americans, Koreans, Japanese, French, Singaporeans, Cambodians, Canadians, Australians, and more. What about us? Will we be repatriated too? Does our government care for us? Maybe not because there’s only a few of us here and most Filipinos in the country don’t want us home. They thought that we already have the virus, and they feared that we will only be infecting others,” she wrote on a public Facebook post last week.
Deguilmo-Lauron, along with 29 other Filipinos, was repatriated from Wuhan and arrived at the Haribon Hangar in Clark Air Base on February 9.
“On behalf of our group from Wuhan, it is my humble honor and distinct privilege to write this thank you message for those who are behind the successful repatriation. We hoped to know the specific names of people who are responsible for the success of the repatriation, which resulted in us being here, safe, well-taken care of, well-fed, well-provided, and well-supported. We may not know all your names, but we are aware of your efforts and how you all cared for us,” she added.
This week, the DFA is expected to repatriate more than 100 Filipinos from Macau over the Covid-19 outbreak.
“In Macau, we are chartering a plane and hopefully, by this weekend we’ll be able to fly them in,” Arriola said. (ia/PNA)