Syria crisis alert level raised – ROY C. MABASA
Crisis alert level three – or the voluntary repatriation on Philippine government’s expense — has been raised in some areas in volatile Syria, according to a Philippine Embassy official amid the worsening peace and order situation in that Middle East country.
In a radio interview Friday, Vice Consul Dennis John Briones disclosed that although the capital city Damascus, where many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are concentrated, was quiet and normal with no incident of demonstrations, protests in some areas in Syria ended in violence, particularly in Daraa, Latakia, and Homs — the three areas identified as critical, following heavy clashes there between anti-government protesters and government security forces.
There are at leas t 2,400 OFWs in Latakia, 110 in Dara, and 1,600 in Homs.
Last Thursday, Syrian government forces killed about 10 people in the besieged western city of Homs, according to a statement from the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of Syria, an affiliation of groups that organizes and reports on protests in Syria.
In the Bab Sbaa neighborhood near the center of Homs, shooting continued for hours before tapering off, the statement said. Communication lines were cut in many places and it was not possible to deliver medical aid to the wounded, the LCC said in its statement.
Briones said at least 20 to 30 Filipinos are being repatriated every month since March.
Briones said they are requesting additional funds from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) because a substantial number of Filipinos who are due for repatriation are currently sheltered at the Embassy.
He said the government spends around $2,000 for every OFW repatriated by a batch of about 50 individuals.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier stated that there seems to be some appreciable difference in the developments taking place in Syria, how these are reported by some foreign television news networks and what is actually relayed to them by the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
He expressed uncertainty whether the Embassy report is the actual situation or just borne out of fear that they are under tight monitoring of the host cuntry.
The foreign affairs chief said aside from the reports from the Embassy, they also rely on the Filipino community there as well as other foreign embassies on updates about the situation there.
Last April, the DFA raised the crisis alert level in Syria to alert level 2 in light of the continuing political tension in that country and as a precautionary measure for the Filipino community there.
Alert level 2 entails restriction of movements around that country, avoiding large crowds and areas of protest, and encouraging Filipinos to voluntarily relocate or leave Syria at their own cost if they have no pressing need to remain.
Non-essential and non-urgent travel is discouraged, including travel for tourism purposes, and only returning workers will be allowed to go back.
The protest in Syria arose in part from the arrest last March of about 20 youths who had written graffiti complaining about the high cost of living and calling for more freedoms.
Before the violence broke out, anti-government protests were virtually unknown in that country – a police state where political opposition had been brutally suppressed in the past.
As the clashes intensified, demonstrators changed their demands, from calls for freedom and an end to abuses by the security forces to calls for President Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow in the country of 20 million people.
Date : 22/07/2011