Hurricane Irma, the category-5 major cyclone that formed in August 30 over the Atlantic and dissipated September 12 over the US, was an extremely intense storm that wreaked devastation all along the Caribbean and western Florida. Lots of infrastructure was damaged, transportation was diverted or ground to a halt, businesses and vital services were shut down or disconnected, and about 79 people in total were killed in incidents brought upon by Irma. The Caribbean islands however came off at the worst end of the hurricane, with disturbing satellite photos of some of them looking bare or brown due to trees and plants uprooted by violent winds, or vegetation turning brown from exposure to seawater. For many Filipinos living in the Caribbean right now, the situation is untenable.
That is why the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Wednesday, September 13, that they plan to expedite the expatriation of about 236 Filipino citizens who are living in the Caribbean Islands, as told by CNN Philippines. They could be returned to the Philippines as early as next week. A statement by DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano remarks that requirements of logistics and administration regarding the repatriation are currently being arranged so that the Filipino “kababayan” who have been struck by Hurricane Irma can return to the country starting next Monday.
According to data shared by DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar, there are currently about 4,000 Filipinos residing throughout the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Several isles – the Bahamas, Bermuda, British West Indies, the Caymans, and the Turks and Caicos – are serviced by Filipino consuls under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, which also looks after Filipinos living in the US, in particular the states of Florida and Georgia that were visited by Irma. In addition, Sec. Cayetano notes that Filipinos are also awaiting repatriation from the British Virgin Islands (16-180), Anguilla (20) and St. Martin (36).
In the general repatriation plan, the Washington (US) RP Embassy will oversee the travel arrangements for Filipinos from the consul-served Caribbean islands as well as the British Virgins and Anguilla. They will in turn coordinate with the Philippine Embassy on The Hague (Netherlands) to see about the Filipinos on St. Martin, which is Dutch territory. Teams from the DFA on the scene have already started distributing food coupons to Filipino communities there, whether they are looking to be repatriated or not.
As for Filipinos in Florida or Georgia, none have been severely affected by Hurricane Irma and therefore have not considered repatriation. But those who do wish it, from the Caribbean, will get the help they need.
“We will bring them all home,” remarks DFA Secretary Cayetano.
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