THE first batch of 13 Filipinos repatriated from Iraq has arrived in Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday.
A team from the Philippine Embassy from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq accompanied the Filipinos to Doha, Qatar where they boarded a commercial flight to Manila.
Nine of the workers came from Baghdad while four were from Erbil, which is located in the Kurdistan region of the country.
It was the first repatriation of Filipinos since mandatory evacuation was ordered by the government after Alert Level 4 was raised in Iraq due to the escalating tension between the US and Iraq following a US airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Solaimani early this month.
Their plight to get home was not without bumps.
The DFA said they were supposed to arrive in Manila on January 12 but authorities suspended all flights to and from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport due to the heavy ash fall caused by the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano.
On January 14, the group from Baghdad was held by an Iraqi immigration official over allegations of visa fraud.
The kink was later ironed out by the embassy team who assisted the group.
“Seven OFWs and two children from Baghdad now en route to the airport in 2 armored vehicles, together with Iraq Philippine Embassy charges d’ affaires Jomar Sadie, for their repatriation flight back to Manila,” DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Dodo Dulay said on Twitter earlier.
DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola assured Filipinos in the Middle East that the department will do everything to get them out of harm’s way.
Arriola said “more Filipinos from affected areas were expected to return to Manila in the coming weeks.”
There are more than two million Filipinos living and working in the Middle East, majority in Saudi Arabia which host more than 1.2 million OFWs.
The DFA said 16 distressed OFWs from Dubai were also repatriated to Manila on Wednesday.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has lined up assistance for the repatriates from their arrival until their reintegration into the community.
In a statement, OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac assured the returning OFWs they will be given post-repatriation assistance.
“Our kababayans returning from Iraq already experienced the worst before they reached the country. Let us make them feel that they are already home,” Cacdac said.
Upon arriving at the airport, repatriated OFWs will be assisted in processing their documents at the immigration counter, administered first aid/initial medical evaluation if needed, and helped in the retrieval of their luggages.
Repatriated OFWs shall also be provided with temporary board and lodging and, if needed, provided stress debriefing, psychological counseling, and legal assistance.
Transportation services will also be provided to physically/mentally ill or distressed returning OFWs to other pre-identified destination points, such as hospitals, airports, seaports, bus stations, or to their places of residence, if necessary.
Each returning OFW from Iraq shall receive cash assistance of P20,000 for active OWWA members, and P10,000 for non-active OWWA members.
“These post-repatriation interventions are provided to our repatriated kababayans for their fast recovery and reintegration,” Cacdac said. – With Gerard Naval