Filipino workers refuse to leave Afghanistan, Libya, Syria
Thousands of Filipinos on knife-edge are resisting evacuation efforts amid rising violence in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
Concerned activists have accused the Aquino administration officials of either being “very slow” or are “playing down” the situation of the besieged Filipino workers.
The US military command has set for Sept. 9, the start of a “demobilization process” for some 5,000 Filipinos in Afghanistan following an Aug. 13 memo directing companies employing them to prepare an “exit strategy timeline.”
“It is the responsibility of the current employer to repatriate their employees. Additionally, it is in the best interest of all to ensure this is done in a manner that addresses employee, company and the US government needs,” said one memo issued by Col. Brian Alvin, of the US Army’s 645th Regional Support Group based in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Through their informal group, Filipinos in Afghanistan (FIA), the workers have appealed for an extension of their employment in a letter to President Aquino, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
The letter was signed by FIA representative Carlo Echano and was released to reporters yesterday along with the US memo by a recruitment agency source who requested anonymity.
“There is no time to debate now. Five thousand or more families are about to suffer due to ill decisions. The Philippine economy is about to lose about $100 million a year in remittance money. It would only take one letter from the Philippine government to stop this. Please, for the sake of the families, for the sake of our country, let us set aside politics and do the right thing for once,” Echano said.
He said that once the hiring of replacement employees begins, it would be very difficult to stop. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have rejected appeals for the extension, citing security concerns for the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Work limited to bases
The OFWs said their work was limited to military facilities safe from attacks from Taliban insurgents. The OFWs earn between $1,000 and $2,000 a month doing maintenance and supervisory work.
They want to remain in Afghanistan until the departure of US troops tentatively scheduled in 2014. They pointed out that the Philippine government had allowed some 2,000 OFWs in Iraq until the departure of US troops to be completed at the end of the year.
On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed at least 20 passengers traveling on a minibus in Herat in Western Afghanistan, the British news agency Reuters reported.
Also on Thursday in the country’s east, a suicide car bomber attacked a coalition base, killing two Afghan security guards, Reuters said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Only 40 want to leave
In Syria, engulfed in violent antigovernment protests for months, only 40 of the estimated 17,000 OFWs, mostly women working as domestic helpers, had requested assistance for repatriation, according to DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez.
An OFW activist group, Migrante International, said 70 workers in Syria were stranded in the capital, Damascus, and at the northern port of Latakia, where tanks have opened fire on civilians.
Migrante chair Garry Martinez on Thursday urged the Philippine embassy to facilitate the return of workers in Syria after the DFA issued an Alert Level 3 calling for their voluntary repatriation.
In a statement, Martinez asserted that “repatriation is repatriation regardless of the OFWs’ status or reasons for wanting to leave their host countries.”
He expressed concern over media reports quoting DFA and DOLE officials as saying that “no OFWs have sought repatriation,” despite the DFA’s raising of the crisis alert level.
“While we fully understand how OFWs would opt to stay despite grave danger rather than lose their jobs, we are worried the DFA and DOLE may be wittingly or unwittingly downplaying the situation in Syria,” Martinez said.
DFA ‘very slow’
The Riyadh-based OFW group Migrante-Middle East also assailed the DFA for what it called a “very slow” repatriation program in Syria.
The group’s regional coordinator, John Leonard Monterona, said in a statement, “We are seeing a repeat of the government’s wait-and-see stance at the height of the Libyan unrest early this year.”
In Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) yesterday said a sharp increase in the number of migrant workers had requested assistance for repatriation as rebel forces battled forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi for control of oil facilities vital to winning the 6-month-old war.
If the pipeline to Tripoli is indeed cut, “that would imply dire consequences for the population in Tripoli in terms of fuel supplies needed for the city to keep operating”, said IOM’s Fernando Calado.
Calado estimated that more than 300,000 foreigners remain in Tripoli, including many from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as Libya’s neighbors Chad, Egypt and Tunisia.
“We have received 2,000 requests at this point. The potential caseload is huge. We’re exploring the possibility of land, sea and air evacuations,” he told Reuters.
Only half of the 26,000 Filipinos who were in Libya before the outbreak of violence have evacuated, officials earlier said. Filipinos have said they would rather stay in the war-torn country than face hunger in their homeland.
PAL offers help
Philippine Airlines (PAL) on Thursday said it was ready to help repatriate Filipinos from Syria.
PAL president and COO Jaime J. Bautista said the airline was ready to coordinate with the government in mapping out a plan to get Filipinos out of the “danger zones.”
“As the flag carrier, PAL has a sworn duty to assist in times of crisis for the sake of our suffering kababayan,” Bautista said. With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, Norman Bordadora and Reuters
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