Ex-PH diplomat in Syria denies neglect allegations by human trafficking victims

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) — Former Charge d'Affaires to Syria Alex Lamadrid on Friday said he was unaware of a case filed by several Filipino human trafficking victims against him and other embassy officials for alleged neglect.

"If the case has been filed recently, I haven't been informed about it yet officially until now," Lamadrid said.

Migrante International earlier claimed over 20 Filipino women who were victims of human trafficking in Syria filed complaints of gross negligence, abuse of authority, and failure to protect their rights and welfare before the office of the Ombudsman, but did not specify when.

The supposed complainants were part of a group of more than 50 Filipino women human trafficking victims in Syria who were repatriated between 2020 and 2021.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros led an inquiry on the matter in 2021. She said corrupt immigration officers were collecting ₱50,000 from human traffickers for each woman they allow to go to Syria.

It was during this inquiry that the women claimed the Philippine Embassy in Damascus had neglected them, and that it did not help them leave the country.

"In March 2020 to Sept 2020, there was a lockdown, the airport was closed (re-opened only by Sept 15, 2020) & the Syrian Immigration officials resumed processing of exit permits only thereafter,” Lamadrid countered.

In its statement, Migrante also claimed the trafficked women sought refuge at the Embassy but "were confined in the basement of the Embassy Shelter and made incommunicado from their families for a period of one to two years."

According to Lamadrid, it was standard operating procedure for the women to surrender their cellphones for safekeeping but said these were returned after they protested.

"While the shelter is indeed located in the basement of the embassy, the wards are not restricted in their movement—they were free to go around the embassy premises. In fact, they were given swimming lessons in the Embassy pool in the summer months," Lamadrid added. "They also interacted with FilCom during meetings, commemorative events like Philippine holidays, as well as Christmas and other parties organized by Filcom with the Embassy."

Migrante said some of the victims were even returned to their abusive employers or recruitment agencies. At least one allegedly experienced verbal sexual harassment while under the custody of the embassy in Damascus, it added.

"Many of them had been detained in jails in Syria without being assisted or visited by a representative of the Philippine Embassy," the group said.

In response, Lamadrid said: "Our officers and staff, including myself, visited them and arranged for the release of Filipinas who were imprisoned."

"I'm not aware of any instance of 'verbal sexual abuse' against any ward of the shelter when I was in Damascus PE," he added.