1st batch of Filipinos from Iraq to be flown to Manila on Sunday
MANILA, Philippines – A first batch of Filipinos evacuating from conflict-threatened Iraq is set to travel home to Manila on Sunday, the Department of National Defense (DND) said on Saturday, January 11.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, appointed earlier this week as special envoy to the Middle East, is in Qatar to oversee the government’s plan to repatriate Filipinos in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries threatened with armed conflict.
At least 14 evacuees have been brought to the Philippine Embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to await transfer to Doha, Qatar, where they will board commercial flights to Manila on Sunday, DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement to reporters.
More evacuees are expected to join this first batch of repatriates as the embassy in Baghdad continues to call on Filipinos to come home.
“The situation in the area is still unstable and our contingencies for massive repatriation are still in place,” Andolong said, despite a slight cool-down in tensions between Iran and the US that could erupt into a military showdown in Iraq.
The killing of top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in a US airstrike on the Baghdad airport on January 3 sparked outrage in Iran, which retaliated with a missile strike on Iraqi bases housing US troops on January 8.
Tehran and Washington have since backed down from threats of further attacks. However, the situation in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East remained volatile, and the Philippine government has been urging Filipino migrant workers to avail of its offer of free repatriation.
The government has again called for the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Tripoli, Libya, and within the city’s 100-kilometer radius, owing to the civil war in the North African country. Dozens of Filipinos were repatriated from Libya throughout 2019.
Filipinos in Iraq and Tripoli are urged to contact the nearest Philippine mission for their repatriation.
The government said it is also “closely monitoring” the security situation in Kuwait, which raised the maximum alert level on January 9.
“We are anticipating that there will be requests for repatriation from our kababayans (countrymen) in the neighboring countries in the area,” Andolong said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is still working on its plan to send planes and ships to transport Filipinos out of the Middle East. The government must first secure diplomatic clearances for these war assets before they can deploy, the DND said.
The Philippine Coast Guard’s brand new offshore patrol vessel, the BRP Gabriela Silang, is in Malta in the Mediterranean, “ready to sail anytime to nearby countries where Filipinos are in danger to ferry them to safer areas,” the DND added. – Rappler.com