MANILA — 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 Organisation 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 neighbour’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 counterattack 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.