Labor group seeks Pinoys' whereabouts in Syria

March 4, 2012 12:57 pm 

MANILA, March 3 – Labor advocate Susan 'Toots' Ople is appealing for information from the public about whereabouts and contact details of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other Philippine citizens in strife-torn Syria so authorities can track down and move them to safer ground as soon as possible.

She raised urgency for information and action, noting the conflict in Syria is already escalating so Filipinos concerned must be moved out of that country before it's too late.

"Let's not wait for the last minute before giving information on their whereabouts," she said during Saturday Forum @ Annabel's in Quezon City.

Ople made the appeal as she said authorities concerned were having difficulty in locating the Filipinos.

Lack of proper documentation contributed to difficulty in tracking them down, she said.

"There's disparity in figures on number of Filipinos in Syria," she said.

She noted data from Commission on Filipinos Overseas show 24,005 Filipinos are in Syria.

Department of Foreign Affairs reported only about half of such head count, she said.

Ople was not discounting the possibility that some of the Filipinos lack proper documentation since they illegally entered Syria as victims of human trafficking.

"Unless there's information on where our countrymen are, we'll encounter difficulty in locating them," she said.

She particularly appealed to the Syrian-based Filipinos' relatives, believing they have information that can help government fast-track its rescue operation.

"Please come out and provide the needed information as soon as possible since time isn't on our side," she said, noting Syria might be nearing the brink of a civil war.

During the forum, Ople called on people nationwide, particularly those in rural areas, to refrain from immediately accepting offers for work overseas as they may end up being human trafficking victims.

"Don't believe recruiters at once," she warned.

She said people must beware of offers for jobs in Dubai, noting there are indications this area might be a transit point for people recruited by human traffickers.

Ople also called on local leaders to help boost the campaign against human trafficking.

"Our 'barangay' leaders should play a more active role in this," she said.

Such leaders and their constituents are in the best position to monitor illegal recruitment activities in respective communities, she said.

She said people could call up the Blas F. Ople Policy Center at 833-53-37 to report unusual congregation of women in houses within their communities.

Such women could be victims of human trafficking and the houses might be their transient homes, she said.

"We'll verify the reports together with National Bureau of Investigation," she said.

She believes there's more reason to suspect human trafficking if different groups of women occupy the houses.

Ople also reiterated her call for government to reconsider its decision to close down several Philippine embassies and consulates, particularly those in areas with over 5,000 OFWs.

Closing down such offices will enable government to save on operating cost but will force the OFWs to spend time, money and effort in traveling to and from the other Philippine embassies and consulates where they can seek assistance on their various concerns, she noted.

Among offices she believes government must retain are those in Ireland where some 20,000 OFWs work and Barcelona where about 25,000 OFWs hold various jobs.

"I hope government reviews and conducts consultations with OFWs on the matter," she said. (PNA) RMA/CJT

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