DESPITE looming tensions in Iran and Iraq, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) in Davao Region admitted they cannot force Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in these areas to be repatriated if they choose to stay in their jobs.
Owwa-Davao Region program and service division chief Carmelo Elaya said a repatriation task force has already been sent to the Middle East following the Alert Level 4 set in Iran and Iraq.
The alert issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) calls for the mandatory repatriation for Filipinos.
However, Elayo said one of their challenges is to convince those who choose to stay.
“Ginahangyo gyud nato nga pabalikon sila pero desisyon na siya sa mga OFW, di gyud nato sila mapugngan (We have been asking them to return to the country but the OFWs themselves will have to decide since we cannot force them)," he said.
Around 34 OFWs from Davao Region are working in Iran and Iraq. Most of them are domestic workers, gardeners, and drivers.
He said there is a promise of livelihood programs for the distressed and displaced OFWs, but they prefer to stay despite the security risks because their jobs overseas pay higher than working in the Philippines.
Elayo said working in Middle Eastern countries also opens up other opportunities for them.
Despite that, the Owwa centers and the embassies are ready in case these OFWs decide to return to the Philippines.
“Wala pud ta nagkampante. Ready lang pud ta sa Owwa. Naga-prepare sad ta sa simbako lang na naay mahitabo nga mass repatriation (We are not complacent. We are ready in case there will be an order of mass repatriation),” he said.
As of February 15, 2017, Owwa-Davao Region recorded 72,282 Filipinos from the region working in countries in the Middle East.
Elayo said OFWs working in Iran and Iraq are still staying with their employers.
He said since there is no Owwa center in Iran, OFWs can go to the Owwa Center in the United Arab Emirates or look for the Philippine embassy in Iran.