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Forced evacuation of Filipinos in Libya ordered

Libyan rebels raced into Tripoli in a lightning advance Sunday that met little resistance as Gadhafi’s defenders melted away and his 40-year rule appeared to rapidly crumble. The euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in the city’s main square, the symbolic heart of the regime. (From
Libyan rebels raced into Tripoli in a lightning advance Sunday that met little resistance as Gadhafi’s defenders melted away and his 40-year rule appeared to rapidly crumble. The euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in the city’s main square, the symbolic heart of the regime. (From

MANILA, Philippines (Aug. 24, 2011) - As Libyan rebels take control of most part of Tripoli and a final battle with remaining loyalists of strongman Moammar Gadhafi looming, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) ordered yesterday the forced repatriation of some 1,600 Filipinos in Libya.

According to several reports, the rebels now control 80 to 90 percent of the city of Tripoli and are in celebratory mood. But isolated clashes and gunfires still continue and Gadhafi is not showing sign he is ready to give up soon.

“It’s now Alert Level 4 which calls for mandatory evacuation,” said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.

Earlier yesterday, the DFA told a press conference that the Philippine embassy in Tripoli would first monitor the situation before deciding if there would be a need to raise the alert status from level 3.

“Many of them are medical workers and they are helping out in the hospitals taking care of the sick and injured Libyan nationals,” Hernandez said, referring to Filipino workers in Libya.

At Malacañang, officials said the government is prepared for any eventuality in Libya and Syria, where thousands of Filipinos are in danger of getting caught in worsening violence.

“The President is having the situation in Libya validated so we can see what else can be done to help Filipinos who are there,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters in an informal briefing.

In Libya, the rebels were already in the heart of the capital Tripoli on Monday and were expected to swarm into Gadhafi’s palace anytime.

Valte said majority of the Filipinos in Libya are “nurses and medical workers, who are still safe within the hospitals that they work for.”

“On the situation in Libya, the President has given additional instructions... We have been advised by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) that our people in the embassy must remain in the embassy due to violence in the streets,” Valte said.

“We have been advised that it is highly, it is extremely unsafe for our people in the embassy to go out now to check the situation of our fellow Filipinos,” she said.

Valte said the government’s warning to Filipinos in Libya to avoid venturing outside their homes or offices was first issued weeks ago when it became apparent that Gadhafi was not prepared to step down.

“We have made that call I think as early as the end of last week. The embassy is there, our officials are there and they are ready to assist you (OFWs).” A Tunisian soldier stands guard next to a pre-Gadhafi Libyan flag and the flag of Tunisia as people gather outside the Libyan embassy in Tunis yesterday. AP

Out of around 1,000 OFWs in Libya, 86 have so far manifested their desire to be repatriated, according to the DFA.

Syrian security forces, meanwhile, continue their operations to crush protesters.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), for its part, said it has a list of 258 Filipinos – mostly domestic workers – who now want to leave Syria.

The OWWA said 61 other OFWs in Libya who ran away from their employers are also awaiting repatriation.

“The embassy is there and the DFA’s quick response team arrived over the weekend,” Valte said, referring to Syria.

“They were deployed as quickly as possible and for those who need help, you can contact the embassy so they may extend the assistance that you require,” she added, noting that some 100 OFWs in Syria have already expressed willingness to come home.

“I will have to check what our embassy’s advice is to our countrymen in Syria, because the situation will be different depending on where they are,” she said.

Most of the OFWs in Syria are domestic helpers.

“It’s alert level 3 so there has to be repatriation. But it will depend on the Filipinos themselves if they want to return home.”

The DFA said it is checking if it is safe to designate areas in Libya where Filipinos willing to be repatriated can converge in preparation for their journey home.

“As of date, 86 Filipinos signified their intentions to leave Libya. The embassy is continuously assessing the security situation, whether it would be safe for Filipinos to proceed to agreed meeting points for repatriation,” the DFA said in a statement.

DFA Undersecretary Rafael Seguis reported that the Philippine embassy in Tripoli has received information that five more OFWs from Benghazi are willing to leave Libya.

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Antonio Rodriguez said that with most of the Libyan capital now under rebel control, the Philippine embassy is trying to find out if forced evacuation may no longer be necessary.

“The embassy said they will wait and see for 24 hours if the situation will stabilize,” Rodriguez told a press breifing.

On Aug. 12, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario instructed Seguis to proceed to Tripoli to convince the remaining Filipinos in the embattled capital to leave.

Seguis visited neighboring towns and hospitals to arrange for the repatriation of some Filipinos willing to return.

Philippine Ambassador to Libya Alejandrino Vicente and Seguis are coordinating with the IOM for the repatriation of the Filipinos by sea.

The IOM has made available 400 passenger seats on a chartered ship for Filipinos.

The DFA hotlines for families of Filipinos still in Libya are 834-3240, 834-3245, and 834-3333.

OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon said Philippine authorities are negotiating with Syrian employers to allow their Filipino helpers to leave the strife-torn country.

“We now have the list of 258 Filipinos, mostly domestic helpers, who have registered for repatriation from Syria and our embassy officials there are now negotiating with their employers for the release of their exit visas,” Dimzon said.

She said some Syrian employers would only issue exit clearance in exchange for $3,000 purportedly for the unserved portion of the Filipinos’ employment contract.

“The Syrian employers are reluctant to allow the OFWs to leave because they believe there is really no peace and order problem in the country and thus there is no reason for the Philippine government to take away their domestic helpers,” Dimzon said.

Dimzon said she believes there is no need to charter large vessels or planes for the repatriation since only a few are expected to leave Syria anyway.

“Some of those who have already registered may change their mind at the last minute so we don’t expect massive repatriation and we may just be using commercial planes. We will be buying the tickets as soon as exit clearances of our workers are released,” Dimzon pointed out.

Since negotiations between the Philippine embassy officials and employers are still ongoing, Dimzon said there is still no schedule for the first batch of repatriation.

Dimzon also noted that OWWA has yet to get hold of DFA’s list of 86 OFWs wanting to be repatriated.

The OWWA chief said the OFWs from Libya would be evacuated by sea to Alexandria, Egypt, where they would be flown home on commercial flights.

“We have sufficient budget to buy the plane tickets so there is really no problem in repatriating our workers from Libya and Syria,” she said.

The DFA has allocated $550,000 or roughly P23 million for the forced evacuation of 17,000 Filipinos from Syria.

Meanwhile, National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) Director Vivian Tornea yesterday said returnees from Libya and Syria could avail of the government’s P2-billion reintegration program.

Under the program, OWWA members wanting to expand existing businesses, or put up a new one, may avail of business loans from a minimum of P300,000 to a maximum of P2 million.

Since January this year, Tornea said, about 10,000 OFWs and dependents from the country’s 17 regions have already attended NRCO’s entrepreneurial development training, which is a requirement for those wishing to avail of the loan. (From