Stranded Filipino workers struggle to return to the Philippines

ATLANTA — Nine overseas Filipino workers have been stuck in Atlanta since May 2, when they left the Cayman Islands for the Philippines due to a lack of work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the Cayman Islands, we didn’t have work for almost one month,” Henry Herrera said. “So we decided to go home first while waiting for the situation to be normal again.”

But when Herrera and his companions arrived in the United States, they learned that the Philippine government had suspended all commercial passenger flights to and from the country, leaving them stranded between the hotels and resorts they work at and their families and homes in the Philippines.

“We didn’t eat. We slept at the airport. That’s what happened,” Herrera said.

That’s when local Filipino groups and community members quickly came to their kababayans’ aid. Saranay, Makabayan Georgia and the Philippine Nurses’ Association of Georgia have helped provide all nine with places to sleep and food to eat.

“We are very thankful for the Filipinos here, our fellow Filipinos who are helping us here,” Herrera said.

Yet the question remains: When will these OFWs be able to return to the Motherland? Although flights are now permitted to land at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, strict restrictions on how many passengers can enter the country each day are in effect until June 10. 

Herrera said they’ve seen three of their flights get canceled, including one scheduled for May 26. Now, they’re hoping to leave Atlanta on June 6.

“We have also scheduled (flights for) last May 12 and 14, but (both were) canceled,” Cristina Dimaunahan said. “So we hope this time, our flight will not be canceled.”

Once the OFWs are able to arrive in Manila, they will still need to be tested for COVID-19 and then undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Their plan after that?

“Well, we’re going to stay with our family, of course,” Dimaunahan said, “and we’re going to eat lechon!”

A homecoming meal that this group is hoping will happen sooner rather than later.

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