MANILA, April 26, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippines on Tuesday called on its 17,000 citizens in Syria to leave, in the face of growing violence there.

“The Department (is)…encouraging Filipinos to voluntarily relocate or leave the country at their own cost if they have no pressing need to remain,” the foreign affairs department said on its online site.

Those who cannot leave or prefer to stay should remain indoors, limit their movements, stock up on food and other provisions and stay in touch with the Philippine embassy in Damascus, it added.

The alert covers all of Syria and not just the cities directly affected by the protests, the department stressed, while adding Manila would start offering them free plane journeys out if the situation deteriorated further.

So far, there have been no reports of any Filipinos being hurt in the violence surrounding the pro-democracy protests in Syria.

More than 13,000 Filipinos fled Libya earlier this year amid the civil war there, while Manila also asked its 1,400 citizens in troubled Yemen to leave.

About nine million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money in a wide range of skilled and unskilled sectors abroad than they could in their impoverished homeland.