09/13/2012, 00.00
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Some 5,000 Filipino migrant workers caught up in the Syrian inferno

Most of the migrants are women, employed as domestic and care workers by rich Syrian and foreign families. About 300 have been repatriated after fighting between rebels and the army put their lives in harm's way.

Manila (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - A group of 263 Filipino women migrants have fled Syria, where many had worked for years as domestic or home care workers. Many saw their employers killed before their very eyes.

The group arrived in Manila on Tuesday after weeks of negotiations between the Filipino Embassy, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Syrian government.

According to the IMO, there were at least 5,000 Filipinos in Syria, mostly women. Only a thousand have asked to be repatriated. The others have decided to remain.

Ruth Pana, 29, worked as a baby-sitter for a middle class family in Damascus. The older sons of his employers were active in the opposition and were killed in recent anti-regime demonstration.

Recently, soldiers attacked their home to weed out some rebels hiding in the building's yard. To avoid the crossfire between rebel fighters and soldiers, Pana and the Syrian family fled to a neighbour's basement.

"When soldiers attacked, there were bodies all over the place," she said. After that, her employer and his family moved to a rented house in a safer area of the capital.

Pana chose then to contact the Filipino embassy in Damascus, who sent a diplomatic car to pick her up.

"Until the last moment, my employers tried to convince me to stay with them, saying that I had a contract that I had to respect, but in the end they relented."

Had it not been for the war, Glemer Cabidog, 34, would not have returned home. She worked as the caretaker of a villa in Damascus owned by a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman who rarely visited it.

Cabidog, who was paid US$ 200 a month, said she and another Filipino worker at the villa asked for their employer's permission to leave "but after three months . . . he said he won't allow us to leave. That's why we escaped."

They decided to leave after a clash between Syrian troops and demonstrators took place two weeks ago in their neighbourhood. "We didn't want to die there," she said. Consequently, they made arrangements with the Filipino embassy to pick them up a week later.

According to Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, another 600 Filipino workers have contacted the embassy and the IOM indicating a desire to go home.

Since March 2011, more than 2,000 Filipinos in Syria have returned home.

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