THE Philippine government is ordering thousands of Filipino workers to evacuate Iraq, Iran and Lebanon as the situation between the United States and Iran continues to escalate.
The alert level in Iraq has been raised to the highest level, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which directs Filipino overseas workers to leave the country due to heightened security risks.
“As a result of the government’s coordination meetings on the situation in the Middle East in the past few days, the Alert Level in the entire Iraq has been raised to Alert Level 4 calling for mandatory evacuation,” said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez on Wednesday, January 8.
Alert Level 4 is issued “when there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack,” according to the DFA.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello added that Filipinos should also move out of Iran and Lebanon, as the government has banned the deployment of more workers to those countries.
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 reports as to how many Filipinos are working in Iraq as other government officials have cited up to 4,204 Filipinos.)
The department also released an advisory on its website urging Filipino communities in Saudi Arabia to be vigilant against potential security threats, observe security measures and protocols established by the Saudi government, and abide by the laws, rules, and regulations of the country.
Overall, there are around 2.3 million Filipinos working in various jobs, such as domestic care, construction, and nursing throughout the Middle East.
Bello assured that the government is making arrangements to help Filipinos return to the Philippines, whether through getting necessary travel documents or financial assistance. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration also plans to give livelihood assistance upon their repatriation back to the home country, while the Labor Department is talking to China, Japan, Russia, Canada and Germany for the reassignment of Filipino workers, Bello said.
Malacañang on Tuesday, January 7 announced that President Rodrigo Duterte will side with the U.S. in the event that Iran “intentionally” attacks Filipino workers in the Middle East.
“Hindi tayo magiging (We will not be) neutral. The president was very specific in saying last night that if the Filipinos are harmed, he will side with the Americans,” said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a press briefing.
He added, “If they will harm the Filipinos, then the president will not sit down idly and watch.”
On Monday, January 6 the president said that he sent a special envoy to Tehran and Baghdad to get reports that Filipinos would have a safe way out in the event of an evacuation.
“We have so many Filipinos working mainly in the Middle East. I am nervous. Iran seems to be hell-bent on a retaliation, which I think will come,” Duterte said in his speech.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran rose after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed Friday, January 3 in a drone strike carried out by the U.S. in Baghdad, Iraq.
Iran, for its part, vowed to strike back following Soleimani’s death.