Gov’t team to help Filipinos in Iraq

Posted on June 16, 2014

THE GOVERNMENT is sending a team to assist in the voluntary repatriation of Filipino workers in Iraq, following the order of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to raise the alert level to 3 due to heightened tension in the Middle Eastern country.

“The DFA will send a rapid response team to help in the voluntary repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq due to the worsening situation in the area,” Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma, Jr. said in a radio interview.

Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles C. Jose, in a text message to BusinessWorld, yesterday said the DFA will send one team “as soon as possible” that will assist the embassy with the targeted repatriation of some 900 Filipinos in Iraq. “We’re sending one team to Iraq. It will assist the embassy with the repatriation. The team will depart as soon as possible and stay there as long as needed. There are an estimated 900 Filipinos in Iraq we would want to assist,” he said.

There are, however, about 6,000 “permanent, temporary and irregular Filipino workers” in Iraq, the 2012 Compendium of Statistics on International Migration of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas said.

The DFA on Saturday raised the alert level in most parts of Iraq to 3 citing “deteriorating security situation.”

In a statement posted on its Web site, the DFA said this means Filipinos in Iraq (apart from those in Iraqi Kurdistan region) are encouraged to seek “voluntary repatriation.”

“Filipinos in Iraq are enjoined to volunteer to return to the Philippines at government expense,” the DFA said in the statement.

The DFA, however, clarified the Iraqi Kurdistan region remains under Alert Level 1 (which is under precautionary phase) as Kurdistan “remains relatively calm and stable.”

With the recent developments, Malacañang urge Filipinos to go back to the country reiterating that the government will shoulder the cost of the repatriation.

The DFA Spokesman, however, said since the repatriation is voluntary, there is no timetable until when or how many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will be going back to the country.

“It’s voluntary repatriation for Iraq, so no timetable. It’s up to the OFWs there if they want to go home,” Mr. Jose told BusinessWorld in a separate text message.

Meanwhile, Mr. Coloma noted the government is also closely monitoring the situation in Libya were voluntary repatriation is ongoing after the DFA has earlier raised the alert level in the area to 3.

The Palace Spokesman urge OFWs in the area to cooperate with the government and to voluntary leave Libya with the government’s commitment to help those that will go back to the country.

Likewise, after the DFA approved travel exemptions from the total deployment ban to Libya, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said that these exemptions may be nullified if the crisis alert level in Libya will be raised.

In POEA Resolution No. 9, the travel exemptions to Libya may be withdrawn if security situation worsens in the country. “The foregoing exceptions to the deployment ban may be withdrawn based on an imposition of Alert Level 4 or reimposition of a total deployment ban under Alert Level 3 as recommended by the DFA,” stated in the POEA Resolution.

On June 14, the DFA, in consultation with the POEA, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) approved travel exemptions for OFWs who have existing and valid contracts with their employers in Libya.

OFWs falling under the following categories are allowed to return to Libya:

• Household service staff employed by diplomats in foreign embassies;

• Those employed by the United Nations and other international organizations in Libya;

• OFWs working off-shore in oil rig platforms, provided that they will not pass through mainland Libya nor spend their vacation there;

• Those working for multinational companies, government hospitals and schools as well as for the Libyan National Oil Company; and,

• Filipinos who are married to Libyan nationals.

These OFWs need to secure a letter from their employees guaranteeing their safety, security and repatriation in case the situation in Libya deteriorates.

On May 29, the DFA has raised the crisis alert level to “voluntary repatriation phase” (level 3) from “repatriation phase” (level 2).

“Under Crisis Alert Level 3, Filipinos in Libya are encouraged to leave the country voluntarily as soon as possible. The Philippine government will shoulder the repatriation cost,” the DFA said in an earlier statement.

Last Wednesday, a total of 53 Filipino nationals working in Libya returned to the Philippines after they volunteered to leave the African nation amid its political crisis.

The DFA said the Filipino repatriates have registered for their voluntary repatriation at the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli. -- Imee Charlee C. Delavin and Ailyn D. Galura