Philippines orders evacuation of Filipinos from Iraq

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The Philippine government said Wednesday that it has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Filipino workers from Iraq and the coast guard said it is sending a vessel to the Middle East to ferry its citizens to safety in case hostilities between the United States and Iran worsen.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said the government has raised the alert level in Iraq to the highest level, requiring Filipinos to leave the country due to escalating security risks. Filipinos can leave on their own or escorted out with the help of their employers or the Philippine government.

Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labor may face similar decisions after Iran fired missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US forces in a major escalation of hostilities. The strikes were retaliation for last week’s killing of Iran’s top general in a US drone attack.

India, which has a large number of workers in the Middle East, advised its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Iraq. It also urged its nationals living in Iraq to remain alert and avoid travel within the country.

There are an estimated 15,000-17,000 Indian now in Iraq, mostly in the Kurdistan region, Basra, Najaf and Karbala. About 30,000-40,000 Indians visit Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Samarrah in each year for pilgrimages.

There are an estimated 1,600 Filipinos and their dependents in Iraq, including many who work for US facilities and commercial establishments. President Rodrigo Duterte and top officials have been holding emergency meetings since the weekend to discuss evacuation plans.

Duterte said late Tuesday that he has deployed a special envoy to get assurance from the leaders of Iraq and Iran that Filipinos would be spared in case of any major outbreak of violence.

“Just to get the assurance that my countrymen will have the egress just in case hell breaks loose,” Duterte told reporters.

Philippine officials were finalizing details of evacuation plans in the increasingly tense Middle East but Manila’s coast guard said a new patrol vessel en route to the Philippines from France has instead been ordered to head to the Middle East in case Filipino workers need to be immediately extricated from any danger. The vessel can ferry up to 500 people at any time.

“In case of conflict, overseas Filipino workers will be brought to safer ports where they may be airlifted, as the need arises,” the coast guard said, adding the Philippine vessel may temporarily dock in Oman or Dubai.

The estimated 7,000 workers in Iran and Iraq are a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are employed in countries lining the Persian Gulf.

The Philippines is a leading source of labor worldwide, with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad mostly as household help, construction workers, sailors and professionals.

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