MANILA, Philippines—While saying an evacuation order was too drastic for the situation, Egypt has expressed its deference to the Philippines’ decision to initiate mandatory repatriation amid continuing violence across the Arab country.
In an interview, Egyptian Ambassador to Manila Mahmoud Mostafa Ahmed assured the Philippines that his country would protect Filipinos caught in the violence, emphasizing that the interim government was exerting all efforts to contain what he described to be pockets of violence in his homeland.
“We respect what the Philippines issued. Despite that, we think that most Filipinos will not be willing to come back,” Ahmed told reporters at a briefing at the Egyptian Embassy in Makati City yesterday.
“The Secretary (Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario) has made two visits in 12 days to Cairo, and he raised the fourth degree [of emergency alert] based on his assessment. Despite that, my point of view is it (the situation) doesn’t deserve it,” he said.
Other than the Philippines, only Thailand has ordered a mandatory evacuation of its citizens following clashes between supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and security forces, which has led to the hundreds of deaths and destruction of churches, courts, schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure across Egypt.
On Aug. 19, Del Rosario placed Filipinos in Egypt under Crisis Alert Level 4, the highest emergency alert for Filipinos overseas, after seeing for himself the “marked deterioration in peace and order, exacerbated by complex political challenges” in Egypt.
Ahmed said he understood the government’s duty to protect Philippine citizens abroad, but he believed many will decide to stay.
“They are enjoying the full support of the Egyptian government and they enjoy complete freedom to go wherever they want,” said the envoy.
The official government count of Filipinos in Egypt is at 6,000, but Ahmed said the actual figure might be more than this.
He also clarified that most of Egypt was generally safe and that violence, much of which he attributed to “terrorists” from Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, were limited to only a few areas.
Still under control
“The airports are working normally. The violence in Cairo is limited to certain focused areas, not the whole Egypt. We are not saying that we are now living in paradise. The level of violence is still under control,” said Ahmed.
Decrying criticism about the interim government’s crackdown, he said there was no other choice but to disperse the thousands of Morsi supporters who had been blocking major thoroughfares around Egypt for nearly two months.
He said the protesters were caught carrying arms and had started gunfire at the start of the crackdown earlier this month.
“We are still considering ourselves to be in a war against terrorism. We hope it’ll improve in the next days and I hope they will come back to reason. Our future should be inclusive and this is what we are calling for and working at,” said Ahmed.
“The government is trying to contain the situation by any means. They are all Egyptians. We are going to deal with them according to the law… We are going to deal with them with tolerance, good spirit to convince them that what has passed has passed and let us look to the new future a new horizon,” he said.
So far, five Filipinos have returned from Egypt since the evacuation order. At least 15 are expected to arrive today while nine are leaving Cairo for Manila on Sept. 1.
One Filipino-Egyptian was injured by a stray bullet amid the violence earlier this month, but she has been discharged from the hospital.
According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), the 15 Filipinos, mostly carrying student visas, will arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport via a Gulf Air flight.
Coming in trickles
The repatriates will be met at the airport by the Owwa repatriation team that will assist them in their arrival as they go through the customs and immigration processes.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said Filipinos in Egypt were coming to the Philippine Embassy in Cairo in trickles to sign up for repatriation.