MANILA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu will travel to the Middle East on Thursday, January 9, to oversee government efforts to evacuate Filipinos from Iraq, where a feared war between Iran and the US could play out.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, January 8, after President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him special envoy to oversee the repatriation, Cimatu said the government “will do everything to bring out Filipinos there.”
The Philippine embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is ready with a contingency plan to evacuate Filipinos even before full-blown hostilities break out.
There are some 1,600 Filipinos in Iraq, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Because Iraq is practically landlocked, any exit by way of the sea would have to be done in nearby countries, which means Filipinos would have to either be airlifted or bussed to these transit points, from where they could board ships or planes to the Philippines.
For example, Cimatu said repatriates may travel by land to Amman in Jordan or to Erbil in northern Iraq. From Amman or Erbil, they could be flown to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates or to Doha in Qatar, then transfer to flights to Manila.
It might be remotely possible to fly them from the airport in Baghdad, too, Cimatu said.
It was in the Baghdad airport that a US airstrike killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, sparking outrage in Iran, which threatened to retaliate.
On Wednesday morning, Iran rained “more than a dozen” ballistic missiles on Iraqi bases housing US military troops, and warned of more drastic action should the US respond with yet another attack.
The incidents could plunge Iraq, Iran, and the rest of the Middle East into war, critics worried, and send tremors of conflict across the globe.
Because the US also has military bases elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula such as in Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, these countries with considerable Filipino populations may also end up being targets of Iran and its allies.
The presence of the Iran-allied Hezbollah party in Lebanon could spell trouble for Israel. There are many Filipinos both in Lebanon and Israel, Cimatu said.
Other countries too?
The government is studying whether to evacuate Filipinos from these countries, too, and how.
In Iran, there are about 1,000 Filipinos but many of them are married to Iranians, which means they might not be willing to be evacuated.
So for now, the government is focusing on repatriating Filipinos in Iraq, Cimatu said.
The Labor department, for its part, said it would send response teams to facilitate the evacuation.
Also on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military would be deploying planes and ships as soon as possible to help evacuate Filipinos from the Middle East.
The Philippine Coast Guard is sending its brand new offshore patrol vessel fresh out of the shipyard in France to the Middle East to ferry Filipinos home.
The government is also looking at chartering cruise ships and private jets to get Filipinos out of danger as soon as possible, Lorenzana said. – Rappler.com