MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Filipino Ruth Pana remembered the windows of her employer’s house in Damascus riddled with bullets. The maid, who escaped first to the Philippine Embassy in the Syrian capital and then to Manila aboard an evacuation flight, also remembered one of the sons of her Syrian employer being killed by government forces.
“His chest was opened like there was large steel that passed through it,” she said, sobbing. “Do you know that we buried him at the back of the house because there were no more cemeteries?”
Pana was among nearly 300 Filipino workers — young women who escaped unemployment at home for jobs abroad as maids and babysitters — who fled the worsening civil war in the biggest single repatriation negotiated between the Philippines and Syria. They were flown to Manila on Tuesday by the International Organization of Migration and brought with them the tales of horror and sleepless nights as violence between government forces and rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad spiraled out of control.
Pana, 29, said the man she worked for was supportive of the opposition and his son was killed during a recent demonstration. After the family’s house where she lived and worked was shattered by bullets, they all fled to a neighbor’s basement to escape being caught in the crossfire between government troops and the rebel Free Syrian forces.
She said she liked her employer and had worked for him and his family for three years until 2010, and then returned just months before the fighting erupted in March 2011.
Pana said a military camp behind her employer’s residence was occupied by the rebels but the military launched a counter-attack and bombardment last week using helicopters.
“If you could just see the bodies, oh brother, you would be throwing up,” she said in an interview.
She said when her employer and his family moved to a rented house, she made contact with the Philippine Embassy, which sent a car that took her away to the care of Filipino diplomats until she and the others were repatriated.
Pana said her employer initially didn’t want her to leave, saying she was still under contract, but then relented.
“If it were not for the war, I would not have returned home,” said Glemer Cabidog, 34, who was a caretaker of a villa in Damascus for a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman who had fled the war. “We asked permission from our employer but after three months … he said he won’t allow us to leave. That’s why we escaped.”
Cabidog, who was paid $200 a month, said she and another Filipino worker at the villa decided to leave after a clash two weeks ago between Syrian forces and demonstrators in their neighborhood.
“That was when we decided to leave,” she said. “We didn’t want to die there.”
She said they made arrangements with the Philippine Embassy to pick them up a week later.
She said her employer has stayed in Kuwait for the last nine months. She said she would get food and other provisions by requesting supplies from one of his secretaries who would have them delivered to the compound.
The 263 Filipinos who returned home, many shedding tears of joy, had sought refuge at the embassy compound until Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario traveled to Syria last week to organize their evacuation.
“I was scared and I really wanted to go home. Now that I am home, I am very happy,” said Sasulaya Abdula.
Some of the women were crying and were comforted by others as they waited for their papers to be processed by officers from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, a government agency in charge of nearly 10 million Filipinos who work overseas.
After welcoming them at the Manila airport, del Rosario said up to 600 more want to return home.
The rest of the estimated 3,000 Filipino workers decided to stay in Syria for the time being, he said.
More Related Stories
- Illinois' fracking and coal rush is a national crisis
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11