The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines -– About 1,300 Filipino workers have signified their intention to leave conflict-stricken Syria, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Friday.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing that the Philippine embassy officials in Syria are already making preparations for their departure.
On top of this figure, 160 more Filipinos, who have sought temporary shelter at the embassy to escape the fighting in areas where they were working, are expected to return to Manila upon completion of their exit requirements, Hernandez said.
He said the embassy is negotiating for a blanket waiver of mandatory departure documents for all Filipinos exiting Syria.
An exit visa is required for each departing foreign worker and securing it is usually a tedious process and delays the evacuation of many Filipino workers.
A civil war has engulfed the Arab nation and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to step up its offensives against civilians and rebels despite an array of sanctions and condemnations by the United Nations, the United States and its Western and Middle East allies.
Between 8,000 and 9,000 Filipino workers, based in the critical areas of Damascus, Homs, Daraa, Aleppo, and Idlib, are still in Syria, the DFA said.
As the violence in Syria escalates, the DFA urged the families of Filipinos in Syria to provide the department with updated information regarding their relatives' current location and contact details in Syria so Philippine embassy officials can help track and rescue them.
Reports said at least 41 people, mostly civilians, were killed in an artillery and helicopter bombardment of Damascus neighborhoods since Wednesday.
Attacks were separately carried out in the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, it added.
Hernandez said Philippine embassy officials and staff there are safe.
He also said that they continue to perform their duties, searching for more Filipinos who may want to join the government-organized evacuation.
Manila mounted its mandatory repatriation plan in March 2011 due to the fierce fighting and uprising against the al-Assad government. Travel expenses are wholly shouldered by the Philippine government.
Amid the escalating conflict, the Philippine embassy in Damascus remains open, Hernandez said.
Clashes and explosions can be heard at the embassy, but Philippine officials informed the Home Office in Manila that they are “relatively safe,” he added.
The embassy is located 10 kilometers away from the conflict area and is situated in a government zone.
According to the embassy, Filipinos workers are also safe since most of them work in households situated in affluent areas of capital Damascus, Hernandez said.