DFA evacuates 34 Pinoys from Algeria


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The Filipino workers, one of whom sustained a gunshot wound, are to fly by chartered plane to London via Parma, Italy

MIDDLE OF THE DESERT. Satellite image of the In Amenas gas field in eastern Algeria from Google Maps

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – A total of 34 Filipinos employed at the Algerian gas field stormed by the military after Islamist militants kidnapped foreign workers were evacuated from the country on Friday, January 18, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

The Filipino workers — one of which sustained a gunshot wound — were flown in plane chartered by their employer to London via Parma, Italy, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez told reporters.

The Filipino who managed to escape from the kidnappers before the air strike that killed 34 hostages and 15 militants got out of the country on his own along with a Japanese national.

Hernandez said that “according to our embassy in Tripoli, Algerian authorities have admitted a few deaths and injuries among the hostages [following] the operation undertaken by Algerian military forces. No other information and details have been released by the Algerian authorities on the incident.”

DFA verifying number of hostages

According to the spokesperson, the DFA received on Thursday reports from two sources who got in touch with their relatives in Algeria that a total of 20 Filipinos were taken hostage.

“One said her brother together with 15 other Filipinos are inside the gas facility. The other source said her husband and four other Filipinos are working there,” he explained.

Hernandez added that the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) told their families, “We are here inside and there are other Filipinos with us,” but it is not clear what happened to these people.

About 3,400 Filipinos working in Algeria, according to the DFA.

Hernandez added that the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli is now trying to verify that information and determine the number of OFWs as well as the condition of those “who may be held as hostages or [are] trapped in the gas field.”

But a senior diplomatic official said that the report received Thursday night by the DFA about the crisis in Algeria was actually sourced from the Japanese Embassy in Tripoli.

Philippine diplomats covering Algeria have not made contact with the Filipinos in the gas field, the source added.

The DFA said it is closely monitoring the situation in the North African country and is contact with the Algerian, British and Japanese embassies in Tripoli as well as with the Algerian Foreign Ministry.

American and Malaysian nationals were also among the hostages.

Gov’t ready to assist OFWs

Malacañang said on Friday that it is ready to extend full assistance to Filipinos in Algeria.

“After we are able to confirm if indeed some of the casualties were Filipino nationals, the post in Tripoli will be working to get their immediate details to determine their status in that particular country so we can extend all the assistance that is necessary to them and to their loved ones,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press conference.

She added: “That involves notification or assistance for repatriation if their employers are not on hand to do it. We are ready to extend the full assistance.”

Valte refused to confirm the number of Filipino hostages and noted that the embassy in Tripoli “jurisdiction over Algeria to verify reports.”

Malacañang was also asked about the concerns raised by other governments over the safety of their citizens in that country.

“Our primary concern at the moment is to verify the status of our nationals who were allegedly part of the hostage-taking (…) to make sure that, if any, of our nationals are involved that they are safe and secured,” Valte explained.

Valte refused to comment on the possibility of a travel ban to Algeria.

“That will be part of an assessment that will be made. We will leave it up also to the post and to the DFA to come up with a recommendation whether they will ask the Filipinos there to avoid unnecessary travel at the moment,” she said. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse

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