DFA official: Manila may have reached limit to accept more OFWs, for now

By Recto Mercene & Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco

THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has admitted that after receiving 27,000 returning overseas Filipinos, Manila’s “absorptive capacity” may have reached its limit, thus, preventing more arrivals “so as not to exceed national resources that would place everyone in danger.”

“Unfortunately, there are several considerations that hamper the immediate return of all who have decided to come home,” Assistant Secretary Edwardo “Ed” Meñez, Office of Strategic Communications and Research said on Tuesday.

He said some 20,000 repatriates are still waiting to return home due to testing and quarantine requirements.

However, Meñez said that the primary reason the estimated 20,000 more overseas Filipinos could not return “is the travel restrictions imposed by other nations where inbound and outbound flights are prohibited.”

The Emirates web site, he said, lists only eight countries where they currently operate, not including the Philippines, “[but] I believe the government is trying to build capacity so that other entry points and LGUs [local government units] might allow more returnees to come in elsewhere.”

Pew Research said that “at least nine-tenths, or 91 percent, of the world’s population, or 7.1 billion people, live in countries with restrictions on people arriving from other countries, who are neither citizens nor residents, such as tourists, business travelers and new immigrants.”

“Roughly 3 billion people, or 39 percent, live in countries with borders completely closed to noncitizens and nonresidents,” added Pew Research Center on the analysis of border closure and the United Nations population data.

Meñez added that repatriation is also hampered by the lack of Philippine embassies, or consulates, in all the places where Filipinos are found. “This presents an added complication to repatriation efforts,” he said.

However, Meñez said, the government remains fully committed to repatriating all Filipinos who wish to return home.

Meñez said Covid-19 restrictions present a challenge in communication and coordination with the Filipino community with authorities.

He cited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where some 600,000 Filipinos are served by two posts that have been repatriating distressed Filipinos even before Covid-19 began.

“Each country presents unique conditions that we must assess and prioritize as well,” Meñez pointed out.

The DFA had advised overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, where the DFA has received many queries, who wish to return home “to contact our consulate in Dubai to register their desire to come home as soon as possible.”

Meñez said if there are no commercial flights available, and there are enough Filipinos enlisted, the DFA would try to arrange chartered flights, assuring the overseas workers that “the DFA is working 24/7 to bring everyone home despite the challenges being faced.”

Aside from the 20,000 to 25,000 Filipinos wishing to return home, some 7,500 more are cocooned in cruise ships in Manila Bay since April, waiting to be cleared by the Bureau of Quarantine and the Red Cross.

“This is evident as seen by our continuing efforts that have resulted in over 27,000 Filipinos arriving through Metro Manila since February 2020. Unfortunately, there are several considerations that hamper the immediate return of all who have decided to come home,” the DFA said.

Allow more UAE flights–Gordon

PHILIPPINE Red Cross (PRC) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sen. Richard J. Gordon has proposed to allow more passenger flights carrying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the United Arab Emirates, stressing that most of them are already unemployed and stranded there for months.

Empathizing with the plight of hundreds of OFWs, Gordon, in a letter, requested the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to propose opening the airports in Clark, Subic and Mactan to be able to accommodate more flights carrying OFWs.

“I’m aware that we have to take precautions, but I think it would not be a problem, if we allow more flights to come in and distribute them to other airports such as Clark, Subic and Mactan,” the PRC chairman said in a letter to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., IATF’s chief implementer and his deputy, Vivencio Dizon, who is also president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.

He pointed out that while the need for precautions prompted the government to impose a limitation of 400 arrivals a day at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport due to the coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19 pandemic, the predicament of the OFWs should also be taken into consideration and their suffering should be alleviated.

Gordon assured that diverting flights to the airports in Clark, Subic and Mactan would pose little risk to efforts to combat the spread of the disease since PRC testing centers will be operational within the week in the said areas. They have hotel accomodation capabilities as well.

“I’m sure your prompt action would be greatly appreciated by our kababayan in the Middle East whose suffering would be alleviated because they will be able to come home to their families. It must be very hard, being stranded and jobless in a foreign land, far away from your loved ones and unsure of where to get money for your next meal and other daily needs. I have also received e-mails pleading for help about their situation,” he stressed.

The Philippine Embassy in the UAE earlier wrote to the IATF seeking assistance for the hundreds of OFWs who are unable to return to Manila. They have been stranded because Emirates and Etihad airlines canceled several repatriation flights from Dubai to Manila after airports in the Philippines were temporarily closed to passenger flights due to the pandemic.

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