THE mandatory repatriation ordered by the Philippine government will remain for Filipino workers in Iraq, but has been lifted for Iran and Lebanon as tensions between the United States and Iran ease, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment announced on Thursday, January 9.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III clarified that the alert levels for Lebanon and Iran had been lowered, after they, along with Iraq, were previously at the highest alert level of 4, which requires the government to order Filipino workers to return home due to heightened security risks.

“Initially, the level of alert for Iran, Iraq and Lebanon was the same — level 4. Although it was unofficial, I was informed [on Wednesday] that the alert level in Lebanon had been put down to level 2, and I understand that there’s no more alert level in Iran,” said Bello.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, meanwhile, said the mandatory evacuation of Filipinos in Iraq would remain until the government was sure that there was no more danger to them.

“If you have to err, you have to err on the side of safety,” he said.

According to him, the situation in Iraq remains “unpredictable” and that “anything can happen.”

He also said the worst-case scenario that should be considered in repatriation efforts is an attack on U.S. bases outside Iraq, such as those in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

“We don’t have to wait for these to happen. We have to start now [by] moving them (Filipinos workers) out while the airports are still open and the roads are clear because if the situation deteriorates, it would be more difficult to get them out,” Cimatu stressed.

On Wednesday, the government ordered thousands of Filipino workers to evacuate Iraq, Iran and Lebanon when the alert level in Iraq was raised to the highest level.

There are 1,190 documented and 450 undocumented Filipino workers in Iraq, more than 30,000 in Lebanon, and less than 1,200 in Iran, according to DFA data. (However, there have been some conflicting as to how many Filipinos working in Iraq as other government officials have cited up to 4,204 Filipinos.)

Overall, there are around 2.3 million Filipinos working in various jobs, such as domestic care, construction, and nursing throughout the Middle East.

Malacañang, for its part, welcomed the de-escalation in the Middle East.

“Good news! Good news for all of us. If the conflict has de-escalated instead of escalating, then that’s good news for everyone especially for our overseas workers,” said presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“But nevertheless, the move to evacuate and repatriate is still going on,” he added. 

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