MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships “at any moment’s notice” to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran should violence break out, reflecting Asia’s growing fears for its citizens in the increasingly volatile Middle East.
Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labor may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week’s US airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
South Korean government ministries have discussed strengthening protections for the nearly 1,900 South Koreans in Iraq and Iran. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India wasn’t planning to evacuate any citizens from the volatile region “yet.”
Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defense secretary and top military and police officials Sunday to discuss the evacuation plans.
Duterte expressed fears Monday that the Philippines may have to carry out massive evacuations if violence hits Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia that host large numbers of Filipino workers.
“I’m nervous. Iran seems to be hell-bent on a retaliation, which I think will come. It’s a matter of time ... the cry for blood is there,” Duterte said in a speech. He urged Congress to hold a special session on the impact of a possible crisis in the Middle East and set aside contingency funds.
Iran has vowed to retaliate and President Donald Trump warned that US forces would hit back at 52 Iranian targets if Americans come under attack. Iraq’s Parliament has also called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, which could revive the Daesh group in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.
Meanwhile, China criticized the US for aggravating tension in the Middle East through its military interventionism and urged all parties to exercise restraint to ensure peace and stability.
Beijing also urges the US not to abuse its force, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing on Monday.
Asked about President Donald Trump’s threat of sanctions against Iraq, Geng said China opposed wanton use of the threat of sanctions.
Mexico also expressed concern about the recent events in Iraq and Iran and asked all parties involved to act with restraint and avoid escalating regional tensions.
“In accordance with the constitutional principles of foreign policy, (Mexico) endorses the value of dialogue and negotiation in the resolution of international disputes,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said on Twitter.
El @GobiernoMX sigue con preocupación los recientes sucesos en Iraq e Irán.
En apego a los principios constitucionales de política exterior, refrenda el valor del diálogo y la negociación en la solución de controversias internacionales.
— Relaciones Exteriores (@SRE_mx) January 6, 2020
South Africa’s ruling party has condemned the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander as an “act of international terrorism.”
The statement appeared in a Facebook post over the weekend and was issued by party secretary-general Ace Magashule. The ruling party is the former liberation movement African National Congress once led by Nelson Mandela.
South Africa’s foreign ministry released a more measured statement Friday supporting Iraq’s sovereignty and calling for dialogue and calm.
Asians make up 40 percent of the world’s migrants, and Middle Eastern countries are a common destination. African migrants are also employed around the Middle East, though the possibility of their home countries arranging evacuations is uncertain.
Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Twitter on Sunday that he had spoken to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “on the evolving situation in the Gulf region” and highlighted “India’s stakes and concerns.”
He also tweeted that he spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. “Noted that developments have taken a very serious turn. India remains deeply concerned about the levels of tension,” he said of his conversation with Zarif.
Gulf Arab states are home to more than 7 million Indian expatriates who help drive the region’s economy and keep its cities teeming with doctors, engineers, teachers, drivers, construction workers and other laborers. In United Arab Emirates, Indians outnumber Emiratis three to one.
There are more than 7,000 Filipino workers and their dependents in Iraq and Iran, including many who work in US and other foreign facilities and commercial establishments in Baghdad, the Department of National Defense said.
The workers in Iran and Iraq are a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are employed in countries lining the Arabian Gulf.
The Philippines is a leading source of labor worldwide, with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working mostly as household help, construction workers, seamen and professionals.