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Sunday, December 10, 2023

DFA: More Pinoys heading home as Gaza border with Egypt reopens

Gaza’s border with Egypt opened on Tuesday, paving the way for foreign nationals — including Filipinos — who have been seeking to leave the war-torn Palestinian territory to be finally evacuated, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega said the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt opened at 9 a.m. in Gaza or 3 p.m. in Manila.

A total of 39 Filipinos are expected to cross into Egypt on Tuesday. The DFA is hoping that seven more, who initially expressed their intention to leave Gaza but changed their minds, will follow.

The border opening, which was expected to happen over the weekend, had been delayed twice, on Sunday and Monday, due to the reported missile strike on an ambulance in Gaza and Hamas’ attacks on Israel.

Meanwhile, the sixth batch of Filipino repatriates from Israel arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 yesterday afternoon.

The 42 repatriates, including a child, arrived on board Etihad Airways flight EY-425 around 3:15 p.m. and were met by officials from various government agencies, including the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

As of Monday, six Filipinos remain in Gaza City, including a nun who decided to go back after seeking refuge in the southern part of the Palestinian territory.

Most of the returnees are caregivers. One of them Jesyl Lucas, who worked for 10 years in Jerusalem, expressed her gratitude to the Philippine government through the joint efforts of the Philippine Embassy in Israel.

She also thanked DMW and OWWA officials and personnel who facilitated their safe exit from Israel and for the immediate assistance and other forms of support upon their arrival at the airport.

The latest batch brings to 184 the total number of overseas Filipino workers from Israel who have safely returned to the Philippines through government repatriation efforts.

“I’m pleased to inform you that today, they all have been approved for crossing today… They are [being called] by nationality, the people who will be crossing today, but what our embassy in Amman and our embassy in Cairo [are] certain of is by tonight, local time, they will be able to cross into Egypt,” De Vega said.

He said the 39 are already at the border, while the seven are now having second thoughts.

“Our embassies are still convincing the seven to cross because it might affect our future listings for future repatriation for the other Filipinos,” he said.

De Vega also said that Palestinian spouses of Filipinos will also be allowed to leave Gaza, although government leaders are still waiting for the formalization of such development in writing.

“There’s a statement that has been made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Israel verbally to [the Philippine] embassy that the Palestinian spouses of our nationals will be allowed,” he said.

Such progress has given the Philippine government hope that more Filipinos will be to be repatriated.

At present, there are still 135 Filipinos who remain in Gaza after two Filipino medical workers, who are members of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, were able to leave the territory during the short opening of the border.

Of the 135, only 46 expressed their willingness to be repatriated because the others did not want to leave their Palestinian spouses.

Initially, there were 134 Filipinos reported by the government who were still in the Palestinian territory. But a Filipina tourist who was with her Arab employer in Gaza was eventually discovered.

Her name was already submitted to authorities for smooth crossing to Egypt, de Vega said.

Meanwhile, the children and grandchildren of Filipinos holding foreign passports will be allowed to go out.

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