21 OFWs from Libya bring tales of terror | Global News

21 OFWs from Libya bring tales of terror

Palace appeals to other migrants to leave now
, / 12:40 AM August 04, 2014

BACK FROM LIBYA One of the overseas Filipino workers who arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila flashes the peace sign following his repatriation from Libya. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said the arrival of 21 workers on Saturday brought the total number of Filipino repatriates from Libya to 831. About 13,000 Filipinos are working in Libya. AP/BULLIT MARQUEZ

MANILA, Philippines–“It was difficult. There were explosions night and day,” oil pipeline welder Michael Antalan, 37, said as he and 20 other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Saturday.

Antalan’s group, red-eyed and weary from lack of sleep and a long journey from strife-torn Libya, came home on tickets paid for by the Philippine government, grateful to have escaped the conflict but anxious about bleak job prospects here.


Their Libyan company stopped work on July 20 and allowed them to seek refuge in the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli, about two hours’ drive away.


Rose Biros, 33, a domestic worker in Tripoli, and husband Abraham, the family cook and also 33, sought permission to return home after a bullet slammed into a terrace wall of their employer’s home on July 20.

“At first, he refused, insisting it was safe to stay. How can it be safe when there were stray bullets flying around? After three days he finally let us go,” she said.

Antalan and the Biroses were among the 60 OFWs who have returned home from Libya in the past three days, bringing to 831 the number of Filipinos who have accepted repatriation.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said Sunday that it had assisted at least 624 OFWs in getting out of Libya.

The DOLE said 15 more OFWs were scheduled to arrive in Manila Sunday night.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said most of the more than 13,000 Filipino workers in Libya wanted to stay despite the fast deteriorating security conditions because they feared they would be jobless at home.


In a statement, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said officers from the government’s repatriation program would be at the airport to ensure that the returning workers would get assistance.

She said the returnees would be assisted through immigration, put up at the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration hostel in Pasay City, given emergency medical help and stress debriefing, and money to pay for their bus or boat fares to their provinces.

In addition, Baldoz said the DOLE would help the returnees find new jobs or other means of livelihood.

Malacañang’s appeal

With the news that most of the OFWs in Libya refused to leave, Malacañang on Sunday appealed to the migrant workers to flee, warning that the situation there could worsen.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had chartered a ship to ferry Filipino workers to Malta from the ports of Benghazi, Misrata and possibly Tripoli.

From Malta, the evacuees would be transported by air to Manila, the DFA said.

“We are appealing to them to call our embassy in Tripoli … it is better that at this early stage, they get in touch with our embassy to arrange to be evacuated,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told reporters.

Mandatory evacuation

The government imposed a ban on travel to Libya on May 30, warning Filipino workers there to leave.

It then issued a mandatory evacuation order last month after the kidnapping and beheading of a Filipino construction worker in Benghazi.

A Filipino nurse was also abducted and gang-raped in Tripoli on Wednesday, sparking a walkout by her colleagues at Tripoli’s Medical Center.

But Del Rosario, who traveled to Djerba Island in Tunisia on Thursday to coordinate evacuations, said convincing the OFWs to leave Libya was proving to be a “challenge” because of the fear of being unemployed back home.

Still, he appealed to the OFWs in Libya to get out now while they still can, warning that the exit routes were closing fast.

Border closed

Neighboring Tunisia shut down the Libya-Tunisia main border crossing on Friday when a Tunisian police officer was shot there during violence that erupted when stranded Egyptian and other foreign nationals tried to break through the passage.

Del Rosario said a border crossing to Egypt had also been closed for months.

That left the sea as the only way out of Libya for Filipinos accepting the government’s offer of free repatriation.

In Hong Kong on his way home to Manila Sunday night, Del Rosario said most of the OFWs in Libya wanted to stay despite the government’s appeal to them to get out.

“Even as numbers are increasing for repatriation, my estimate is more than a majority are prioritizing economic security over safety,” Del Rosario said by text.

He said the sea route remained the best option, but in case the ports of Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli were closed, an overland route to Sirt, which takes three hours, would be used.

“Sirt is an option, but we need to ferry our folks to the ship, as it is a shallow port,” Del Rosario said.

The government previously launched a mass evacuation of its workers in Libya in 2011, when most of the 30,000 Filipinos there left during the violent uprising that led to the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Health workers

But about 1,600 Filipinos, mostly doctors and nurses, remained in Libya throughout the uprising.

Their numbers increased after the government lifted a ban on labor deployment to Libya in 2012.

Filipinos make up a large proportion of Libya’s medical personnel and health officials there are warning of a possible collapse of the healthcare system if all the Filipinos leave.

The few hundred that have returned home left more than 12,000 Filipinos still in Libya, which is fast descending into civil war.

But Coloma said that while some Filipinos may be stubborn, “once their lives are at stake, they will be convinced to go.”–Reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, Christine O. Avendaño



Philippine pleads with workers in Libya to return

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60 more Filipinos repatriated from Libya — DOLE

TAGS: Government, Libya, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Philippines, repatriation

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