Nearly 70K OFWs back home, says DFA
THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)facilitated the return of almost 10,000 overseas Filipinos (OFs) last week, bringing the total number of repatriated OFs to 68,440 since it began bringing home Covid-19-displaced migrant workers in February 2020.
Of the total number, 51.23 percent (35,059 OFs) are sea-based and 48.77 percent (33,381 OFs) are land-based, with the most recent repatriates arriving from Barbados, the Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United States on Friday.
The DFA said it is committed to bring home more Filipinos from the Middle East, having facilitated six flights from Saudi Arabia and seven flights from the UAE which repatriated 1,630 and 2,208 fellow Filipinos, respectively.
The DFA also assisted in the safe return of 887 Filipinos from Kuwait and Oman.
Sea-based OFs from all over the world likewise continue to come home as the DFA welcomed repatriated seafarers from Panama, Costa Rica, Barbados, UK, Germany, Norway, Canada, and Singapore this week.
The plight of the seafarers had posed a big challenge, as dozens of cruise ships were stranded by lockdowns around the world, unable to berth in many territories, forcing the passengers and the thousands of crew, including Filipinos, to stay onboard for months.
The DFA also mounted a chartered flight using its ATN (Assistance to National) Funds to bring home 183 stranded Filipinos, including three infants, and two cremated remains of OFWs from Phuket, Thailand, on June 29.
On Thursday, the Philippines opened the first “Green Lane” for seafarers in Asia through the signing of the Philippine Green Lane Joint Circular on July 2.
This will ensure that seafarers are accorded speedy and safe travel, subject to health protocols mandated by the Philippine government, including safe and swift disembarkation and crew change during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The DFA, together with its Philippine embassies and consulates around the world, said it remains fully committed to bringing home its nationals abroad amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. on Thursday led the unveiling of a Philippine Green Lane, describing it as a pioneering effort for providing timely humanitarian relief not only for “Philippine seafarers,” but for other mariners from the region as well.
Locsin said, “We are aware that the Covid 19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions worldwide have caused thousands of seafarers to be stranded at sea and they have to extend their service on board ships, after many months at sea, enabled to be replaced after long hours of duty.”
He said, “with this guidelines we are answering the call of the International Maritime Organization [IMO], and the maritime industry, to put in place a framework for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Covid-19 pandemic and we are doing more.”
Locsin said the country agrees with the IMO “that the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and well-being of the ship crew and the safe operation of maritime trade, and we need to address the situation of the world’s seafarers.”
He noted that without the mariners, “there would be no shipping,” and people to “ensure the maintenance of global supply chains.”
Locsin noted the Philippines is “a maritime nation, the most important country of origin in the world for all shipping crews of all ranks, and our Filipino sailors play a key role in merchant shipping worldwide.”
He said the economic impact of the Philippine maritime industry, comprising, among others, the crewing and manning industry and the training of seafarers, is huge and hard to measure.
“Remittances of seafarers alone contribute billions of dollars to the national economy,” Locsin said, adding that the European Union has a marked “preference for Filipino mariners and pays them top euro.”
From January to April, Filipino seafarers sent home $2.14 billion, up 10.7 percent from $1.93 billion in the same four-month period in 2018, according to the party-list group ACTS-OFW.
Seafarer remittances totaled $6.14 billion in the whole of 2018, up 4.5 percent from $5.87 billion in 2017.
Around 280,000 students graduate from maritime schools every year. In 1996, it was estimated that there were more than 250,000 Filipino seafarers; in 2013, that number was estimated to have increased to about 460,000.— Source: Recto Mercene / businessmirror.com.ph