DUBAI: The Philippine government is preparing to evacuate Filipino expatriate workers as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate with the quick advance of the Taliban towards the center of government.
“The embassy staff in Pakistan [which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan] have started to draw up a manifest of those who want to be repatriated after we gave the contact details of all Filipino workers here,” Joseph Glenn Gumpal, president of Samahang Pilipino sa Afghanistan, the Filipino expatriate community in Afghanistan, told Arab News.
“There are now planned repatriation flights: the first on August 22, then August 23 and August 24,” he said, and the number of interested individuals who want to avail of the free flights has been rising.
“They [embassy staff] have asked the national government for funds [to cover the cost of repatriation]. Eight embassy staff have been assigned to contact OFWs in their respective companies for scheduling [of flights]” Gumpal said.
There are at least 171 registered overseas Filipino workers in Afghanistan that are employed by 33 companies running the gamut from defense contractors to telecommunication firms.
Meanwhile, some have already their flight tickets booked by their employers while others were still awaiting guidance from their companies.
Embassy officials have decided for a repatriation flight to Manila via Istanbul in Turkey, skirting the traditional go-to hub of Dubai as the Philippines has extended the ban on travelers from the UAE and nine other countries until the end of August due to risks posed by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
But Gumpal also noted some Filipino workers have decided against joining evacuation flights and instead were counting on their employers’ commitment they would be repatriated in cases of emergency.
“Their employers have their own contingency plans for their own personnel, and I hope they implement those plans,” Gumpal said.
Up to 2,000 Filipino contractors were deployed inside American and NATO military facilities at the start of 2021, but the numbers were gradually cut down after President Joe Biden decided to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.
Some of them managed to return to the Philippines but a good number have been stranded in Dubai for months now with the suspension of regular commercial passenger flights and with only repatriation flights being allowed.
The travel restrictions, first imposed on April 27, have been extended several times and expanded to include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the UAE.
“We hope the government repatriate them soonest. They are running out of funds, so some are even thinking of going back to Afghanistan instead,” Gumpal said, or staying in neutral areas such as Armenia until such time the security situation in Afghanistan improves.
The Taliban insurgents have captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in a major offensive, taking control of major cities such as Kandahar and Herat less than three weeks before the US completes it pull out of the country after 20 years.