Cimatu: Repatriation to go ahead despite de-escalation of Middle East tension
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who was designated by President Duterte as special envoy to the Middle East, said overseas Filipino workers would be evacuated either by land or air to Jordan and Dubai where conditions are more stable.
The STAR/Rudy Santos, File

Cimatu: Repatriation to go ahead despite de-escalation of Middle East tension

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 9, 2020 - 12:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines' special envoy to the Middle East, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, on Thursday said the government will continue to plan for the repatriation of Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East despite a seeming easing to tension in the region.

Cimatu gave updates on the repatriation amid Washington's call for de-escalation in the region after a wave of missile attacks on US bases by Iran, which prompted the highest alert level for Filipinos living in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. 

"Assuming Baghdad is closed, they will go to Erbil but there is no direct flight to Manila so they will have to fly to Qatar and Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates)," he said at a livestreamed press conference.

"I was told there are some airlines still operating and this is really our contingency plan for the departure out of Baghdad in case it's open."

Cimatu said the worst case scenario for the ongoing repatriation efforts would be for US bases in and around Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar to be targeted. 

"The situation is unpredictable, sometimes there are some instances of a very surprise missile attack," he said. 

"They have the option to press the trigger. We have to be ready in case there will be some incidents along the way."

This comes amid tensions between the US and Iran, as well as Iraq, after a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump on an airport in Baghdad resulted in the death of one of Iran's top commanders. The most recent statements from either side, though, have indicated that there would be no retaliation for the time being. 

'US-Iran tension not sole reason to repatriate'

According to Cimatu, the government decided to take the safest route with repatriation given the many other risks involved. 

He said that repatriation in Lebanon was not necessarily because of the tension between the US and Iran, but that they were simply "preparing for possible actions of Hezbollah, a militant group there."

"If [Hezbollah and Israel] will be included in this conflict, lalong dapat mapabilis ang departure nila (all the more that Filipinos there need to hasten their departure)," he said.

"This time, the conflict is unpredictable. I would really suggest to move them out already even if walang conflict pa."

The envoy disclosed that he received information that there were "about 1,600 Filipinos already" who have expressed interest in repatriation efforts. Twenty-nine of them, he said, were set to go to the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad to fly out.

Undocumented workers urged to go home as well

As for undocumented OFWs, he asked the public to assist their efforts by helping to contact them. 

Although 2016 data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration documents 679 OFWs in both Iran and Iraq, labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino expressed concern that there could be "thousands more" undocumented Filipinos in the region. 

"We cannot account for undocumented OFWs. We don't know where are they, but we can communicate with them through their families here in the Philippines," Cimatu said. 

"We'd like to request for their families to move them out and take advantage of this repatriation."

Cimatu said alert levels in the region may be downgraded if nothing happens "within two weeks, hopefully."

The Philippine Embassy may be contacted at (+964) 781-606-6822; (+964) 751-616-7838; and (+964) 751-876-4665 or via email: baghdad.pe@dfa.gov.ph; or via their Facebook page: Philippine Embassy in Iraq.

ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY ROY CIMATU MANDATORY REPATRIATION OFWS US-IRAN TENSIONS
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