MANILA, Philippines — More than 223,000 overseas Filipinos have been repatriated by the foreign affairs department since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Of the total 223,294 returned migrant workers logged by the DFA, 9,352 returned last week.
"Of the total number of OFs repatriated, 73,870 (33.08%) are sea-based, while 149,424 (66.92%) are land-based," a statement released by the agency reads.
The following is a breakdown of the migrant workers who returned home last week through a total of 38 special commercial repatriation flights:
- 8,444 from the Middle East
- 512 from Asia and the Pacific
- 395 from Europe
- Two from the Americas
"Part of the 8,444 OFs who came home from the Middle East were 260 Agrostudies students from Israel, an undocumented OFW and her minor child from Iran, and two possible victims of trafficking-in-persons from Syria," DFA said.
Another 92 repatriates, meanwhile, returned from Benghazi, Libya — the first repatriation from the Libyan city since 2017.
"Finally, the DFA, through the Philippine Consulate General in Manado, the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta and the Consular Office in General Santos City and in partnership with the Philippine Coast Guard, also brought home 40 Filipino fishermen from North Sulawesi, Indonesia to General Santos City on board the BRP Tubbataha." The agency added that this marked its first repatriation effort by sea from Indonesia since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
Thousands of OFWs stranded, DOLE says
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello on Wednesday said some 6,000 overseas Filipino workers have been stranded in Metro Manila due to delays in COVID-19 testing wrought by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp's late payments.
Specifically, the Philippine Red Cross on October 14 temporarily halted its PhilHealth-funded COVID-19 testing due to the agency's failure to settle its overdue balance of more than P930 million. Of the 4.42 million COVID-19 tests conducted in the Philippines, more than a million — or about 25% — were conducted by the PRC.
The usual two days spent by returning migrant workers in hotels designated as quarantine sites can now stretch for as long as six days due to these delays, Bello said Wednesday, adding that this drives up repatriation expense.
Earlier this week, he said that of the previous 1,000 to 3,000 repatriated Filipinos able to return home per day, only a maximum of 300 can be accepted now.
During a televised address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte promised that PhilHealth would soon pay its outsized debt to the Philippine Red Cross. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque two days later said such a promise from the president, although free of any further details, should be enough for PRC to resume testing. — Bella Perez-Rubio