Saturday, January 11, 2020

Repatriation of OFWs in Middle East starts

The Philippine government has started the mandatory repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East, with special envoy Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu currently in Qatar to implement evacuations on the ground.

The first batch of evacuees, totaling 14, were reported at the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq as of 9:00 a.m. on Saturday.

They are set to be transported to Doha, Qatar from where they will be flown to Manila on Sunday. The number of evacuees may increase since the embassy is still calling on more OFWs to return to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard Ship BRP Gabriela Silang is on standby in Malta and is prepared to sail to nearby countries where Filipinos are endangered. A mandatory repatriation alert has been issued and remains in effect in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon after a United States airstrike last week killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad's international airport in Iraq.

There are an estimated 1,600 documented Filipinos living in Iraq and another 1,000 in Iran. Kuwait, where the security level was raised to maximum on Thursday, continues to be closely monitored.

An area covering a 100-kilometer radius from and including Tripoli, Libya now also has an Alert Level 4 (mandatory repatriation) in place. Outside of the said radius, an Alert Level 2 status (restriction phase) remains. “We advise our kabayans in Iraq and in Tripoli, Libya to contact the nearest Philippine mission to facilitate their mandatory evacuation,” the Department of National Defense posted on social media.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Friday said the evacuation of OFWs in the Middle East must still take place despite Washington's call for de-escalation in the region. "I suppose may mga mixed reactions diyan. But at the end of the day, 'pag sinabi nating mandatory repatriation, no ifs and buts diyan. That's for the safety of everybody," Nograles told the media.

(I suppose there are some mixed reactions there (Iraq). But at the end of the day, when we say mandatory repatriation, we mean no ifs and buts.)

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, said that Filipinos married to Iraqi nationals are exempted from the mandatory evacuation. "Well, in those places where there is really a great danger for the Filipinos to be staying, the latest advice I was given was that in Iraq, it is forced evacuation. But on those who are married already, whose husbands are Iraqi nationals, we cannot do anything," the president said in an interview with ABS-CBN broadcasted on Friday night.