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DFA orders evacuation of Filipinos in war-torn Tripoli

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday issued a mandatory evacuation order for more than 1,000 Filipinos in Tripoli amid escalating fighting, rocket fire and airstrikes in the Libyan capital.

A spokesperson for the department, Emmanuel Fernandez, said the DFA gave the order after the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli warned that it “could no longer guarantee the safety and security of Filipinos who chose to remain despite repeated appeals for them to go home.”

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Embassy to remain open

But the government will not force the Filipinos to leave, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted on Wednesday. He promised instead that the embassy would remain open despite the security threat.

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“Even after the last OFW (overseas Filipino worker) is gone our flag is not coming down from where the flag flies now. Let me end with the famous cheer of the Falange: ‘Viva la muerte (Long live death)!” Locsin said.

Locsin, however, appealed to the Filipinos in Tripoli and outlying regions “to seriously consider repatriation before the situation escalates further,” the DFA said in a statement.

Locsin “requested the help of families in the Philippines in convincing their loved ones in Tripoli to accept the repatriation offer before it’s too late,” it said.

The evacuation order applies to Filipino workers and their dependents in Tripoli and areas within a 100-kilometer radius because of fighting between rival militias for control of the North African nation’s capital.

Elmer Cato, the top Philippine diplomat in Tripoli, said many Filipinos, who work as nurses, teachers and personnel in Libya’s oil industry, had refused to leave their relatively higher-paying jobs and opted to take the risk because they had to work and provide for their families back home.

Trapped in fighting

Cato told The Associated Press (AP) by phone that the government was prompted to issue the mandatory evacuation order after 13 Filipino workers and their dependents, including children, were trapped in an apartment building on Monday amid intense fighting in Tripoli’s Salahuddin district.

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Another Filipino was held overnight by gunmen who broke into his apartment, but was freed unharmed the next day, Cato said.

At least two Filipinos were wounded after several hospitals and residential areas were recently hit by a barrage of mortar fire, he said.

“The fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli will also soon make it difficult for the embassy to respond to urgent requests for assistance from distressed nationals,” Cato said.

Amid frequent airstrikes, mostly delivered by drones, diplomats covered a part of the embassy’s roof with a huge Philippine flag in hopes that it would not be bombed, he said.

Cato said that after volleys of rocket fire hit Tripoli for the first time last month, some Filipinos decided to return home or move to safe areas in Libya with the help of their employers or the Philippine government.

Only 40 have left

The DFA issued an order for voluntary repatriation on April 8 after rival forces began to attack the capital to oust the internationally recognized government.

But most Filipinos there chose not to leave their jobs.

The Philippine Embassy and the Department of Labor and Employment have assisted only 40 Filipinos in returning home.

The latest group of six Filipinos left Tripoli on Wednesday morning for Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, where they would take a flight to Manila.

The labor department has also imposed a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya due to the escalating violence. —With a report from AP

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TAGS: DFA, Libya conflict, OFWs in Libya
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