The Philippine government on Friday pledged to expedite the repatriation of some 42,000 migrant workers expected next month as several thousand remain stranded in quarantine centers.
The workers are heading back to the country following the suspension or end of their contracts over the COVID-19 pandemic, posing a logistical challenge to the government.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told a virtual press conference that many of them have been stranded overseas due to a wave of travel bans across the globe.
"This number is a combination of stranded workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers who lost their jobs due to the crisis and couldn't return home immediately, and those who recently ended their job contracts abroad," he said.
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, some 24,000 Filipino workers based in several countries have already been flown home.
All returning overseas workers are required to spend 14 days in quarantine on arrival in the Philippines.
Many of the 24,000 stayed in quarantine facilities for weeks beyond the 14-day requirement while awaiting the results of their tests, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to recently order the fast-tracking of the return of these workers to their respective provinces.
As of Friday, less than 5,000 are still waiting to be transported to their homes.
"We apologize for the anxiety and the discomfort that the unwarranted suffering may have caused our dear overseas Filipino workers, all 24,000 or so of them," Bello said.
"They do not deserve this to happen to them and I repeat I am very sorry to our overseas Filipino workers," he added.
As part of measures to expedite the repatriation process, the government is planning to arrange testing of returning overseas workers in reliable and credible COVID-19 test centers at the point of origin to shorten their quarantine once they land in the Philippines.