MANILA: The Philippines has begun evacuating expatriate Filipinos working in Tripoli amid escalating clashes between rival Libyan forces.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippine Embassy had evacuated the first batch of seven Filipinos — three hospital workers and four students — on Thursday morning. The seven had been taken to Tunisia where they will be repatriated to the Philippines
Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elmer G. Cato said 13 more Filipinos who requested assistance are expected to be evacuated to Tunis in the next few days.
Cato noted that of the estimated 1,000 Filipinos in the Libyan capital, only 20 have so far requested repatriation despite the Embassy’s efforts to convince them to go home to ensure their safety. There are around 2,600 documented Filipinos in Libya overall — mostly professionals.
One of the Filipino workers, Rolando Torres, narrowly survived the barrage of rockets that struck Tripoli late Tuesday night, according to Cato. Torres was left with a wound to his forehead.
When Philippine officials came to get him Wednesday morning, Torres, a native of Nueva Ecija province, told Cato he had been working in Tripoli since 2006 and had seen the Libyan capital at its most violent but the attack last Tuesday night was different. “He now wants to go home,” said Cato.
The official said embassy workers had to scramble again on Wednesday night, following reports that rockets had struck the Al Afia Clinic, about 29 kilometers south of Tripoli, where 18 Filipinos are working. The hospital is located in Qasr bin Gashir where heavy fighting has been taking place since hostilities broke out two weeks ago.
The clinic’s owner told Philippine officials that all his Filipino staff were safe in the basement of the hospital and that he would be moving them to a safe location in the morning. But, Cato added, when embassy officials finally spoke to the staff on Thursday, they declined the offer of repatriation.
“They thanked us for the offer but said they have no plans of going. They will all be staying,” Cato said.
The embassy has since reiterated its appeal for Filipinos in Tripoli to seriously consider repatriation.
Following advice from the DFA, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) last week ordered a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya “to ensure their safety and security and to avoid getting caught in the escalating violence in Libya,” according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
This came after the DFA raised the alert level in Tripoli and some areas within a 100-kilometer radius of the capital to level three — the voluntary repatriation level.
Bello said DOLE is coordinating closely with the DFA to monitor the situation and assess the repatriation of overseas workers, as well as to ensure the workers’ safety and security.
“DOLE is ready to provide repatriation assistance to Filipino workers who (wish to) come home,” Bello said, adding that his department is also prepared, if the situation deteriorates, to deal with the forced repatriation of expats in Libya.
Bello said the deployment ban would remain in effect until the situation normalizes, or until further advice from the DFA.