The DFA capped its unprecedented repatriation efforts for 2020 by bringing home 327,511 overseas Filipinos this year. Land-based repatriates make up 231,537 or 70.7% of the total numbers, coming from at least 90 countries around the world. The remaining 29.3% or 95,974 are seafarers from more than 150 cruise ships, oil tankers, and other bulk vessels. Below is the breakdown of the repatriates traveling or transiting through the following regions:
Middle East – 228,893 or 69.89%
Asia & the Pacific – 36,868 or 11.26%
Americas – 30,971 or 9.46%
Europe – 28,909 or 8.83%
Africa – 1,870 or 0.57%
Since 9 February 2020 – the day when the DFA mounted its first COVID-19 repatriation flight to Wuhan, China – the Department has been relentless in bringing home overseas Filipinos despite the multitude of challenges it faced. A 10-member team from DFA and DOH Manila personally flew to Wuhan when it was still the epicenter of COVID-19 in February. This pioneer mission successfully brought home 30 Filipinos from the Chinese city. The 10-member team was courageous and dauntless despite the fact that much was yet to be discovered about COVID-19 at that time. Also in February, a 3-person rapid response team flew to Japan to assist the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo in the disembarkation and repatriation of Filipinos on board the COVID-19 stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship. This marked the beginning of the pandemic’s immediate impact on the cruise line industry where thousands of Filipino seafarers were working.
When countries started to close their borders in March 2020, the tourism industry was heavily hit and cruise line companies were forced to suspend their operations. From March to June 2020, the DFA facilitated the daily arrival of chartered flights – each carrying hundreds of seafarers from cruise ships docked all over Europe, North America, and the Carribbean. Many of the repatriated seafarers have only been on board their ships for weeks when the pandemic struck. They had no choice but to come home, without certainty as to when they will be called again for work.
When businesses started to close shop because of the effects of the worldwide lockdown, the repatriation of our land-based overseas Filipinos followed suit. In April, the DFA chartered flights to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, and Italy to bring home 1,096 distressed overseas Filipinos who lost their jobs and had no means to come home from those countries.
Calls for repatriation from the Middle East came in May 2020 as the DFA sent its first sweeper flight to the Middle East, via Riyadh and Dammam, Saudi Arabia. This marked the beginning of the mass repatriation of more than 220,000 overseas Filipinos from the region.
Thereafter, in June 2020, the DFA sent a sweeper flight to Africa which stopped by Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya before heading home to the Philippines with 287 distressed overseas Filipinos on board.
In August 2020, the DFA was confronted with two Herculean tasks. First was the repatriation of our compatriots in Uzbekistan where the Philippines does not have an embassy, let alone an honorary consulate. Through the Philippine Embassy in Tehran and in coordination with leaders of the Filipino community, the DFA worked on the repatriation remotely but was nevertheless able to bring home 257 of our fellow Filipinos. The second Herculean task was the need for a swift organization of a repatriation flight for the Filipino victims of the blast at Port of Beirut. Without utmost urgency, the DFA sent a chartered flight to Lebanon and brought home 386 repatriates, many of whom sustained injuries from the blast. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. welcomed the repatriates personally upon their arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
In September 2020, the DFA also organized a goodwill mission to Lebanon. Together with the Chief of Presidential Protocol, the DFA travelled to Beirut and brought 5,000 boxes of relief goods for our overseas Filipinos in Beirut. Medical supplies such as vitamins and face masks were also donated to various Lebanese hospitals and other non-government organization. On the return flight, another 317 distressed Filipinos were repatriated.
Even as the DFA entered its eighth consecutive month of repatriation efforts, October still marked several “firsts” — the mass repatriation of more than 500 Agrostudies students from Israel, the first repatriation of 92 OFWs from Benghazi, Libya since 2017, and the first-ever repatriation by sea from Indonesia of 40 Filipino fishermen via the BRP Tubbataha.
In November 2020, 9 Filipino seafarers were brought home by the DFA after their shipping vessel was abandoned by its owner at the Port of Djibouti. The Department, in coordination with its missions abroad lobbied hard with the Djibouti representatives in the International Maritime Organization in London, the United Nations in New York and the Djibouti Embassy in Tokyo to allow the disembarkation of the Filipino crew of MV Arybbas on humanitarian grounds. They arrived safely in Manila last November after being stranded onboard their vessel for more than fourteen months.
Finally, December marked the highest monthly total of repatriated overseas Filipinos at 51,770 despite the cancellation of several flights as a precautionary measure to the spread of the new COVID-19 strain. Sweeper flights were also organized to bring home distressed overseas Filipinos from Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE, in time for the holiday season.
“While these are some of the highlights of the DFA’s repatriation efforts for this year, let us not forget the tireless dedication of our DFA frontliners who facilitated the return and provided airport assistance to hundreds of medical repatriates, victims of trafficking-in-persons, unaccompanied minor children, and senior citizens who were repatriated by the DFA this 2020.” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Y. Arriola
“As we start a new year, the DFA remains committed to its assistance-to-nationals mandate and renews its promise to bring home every Filipino who wishes to come home.” Undersecretary Arriola added.
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