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Filipinos ordered to leave Iraq; embassy in Kuwait reassures citizens

MANILA: A protester holds anti-US placards next to Philippine policemen during a rally in front of the US embassy in Manila on January 6, 2020, demonstrating against the US strike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. – AFP

MANILA/KUWAIT: The Philippines will dispatch cargo planes and a ship to help evacuate Filipino migrant workers from Iraq after ordering its citizens to leave following an Iranian missile strike targeting US troops, officials said Wednesday. In the meantime, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait reassured nationals in the Gulf state that they are ready to repatriate Filipinos living there if necessary.

Manila issued the mandatory evacuation order for its nationals in Iraq after the Iran carried out its first act of promised revenge for the US killing last week of a top Iranian general. About 1,600 Filipino workers are in Iraq — among some two million of their countrymen across the Middle East — as part of a vast diaspora that is a key pillar of the economy. Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing the US military, and Iranian state television said it was in response to Friday’s killing of general Qasem Soleimani, one of the most important figures in the country’s government.

Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters the government will send at least three military cargo planes and a newly built coastguard ship to get Filipinos out of harm’s way. The coastguard vessel, which left a French shipyard in December, will likely shuttle workers to Qatar, Lorenzana said. “Once we gather them, we can maybe charter a plane or charter our ships to bring them home,” he added.

Government prepared

The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait had released an advisory on Tuesday reassuring its estimated population of 230,000 citizens in the Gulf state about plans to repatriate Filipinos out of Kuwait if necessary. “In view of recent developments in the Middle East, Filipinos in Kuwait are assured that the Philippine government is prepared to repatriate any Filipino who may be affected or displaced by the ongoing crisis,” reads an advisory the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait released on Tuesday for all Filipinos in Kuwait. “Filipinos in Kuwait are advised to remain vigilant, exercise caution and maintain situational awareness at all times,” the public advisory reads.

Around 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they send home is a lifeline in a nation where many live in deep poverty despite the country’s robust economic growth. The government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes, but advocacy groups have highlighted the costs — which include the vulnerability of Filipinos to danger in troubled nations.

Malaysian citizens

In the meantime, Malaysia is seeking to evacuate its citizens from Iraq and Iran in aftermath of the Iranian missile attack on bases manned by American and Iraqi troops in Iraq, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry declared yesterday. Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said in a statement that officials of various authorities, namely the premiership office, the defense and interior ministries, held a meeting today to map out evacuation plans.

Malaysia is monitoring the situation in the Middle East and has advised nationals there to be vigilant amid “the strife in the Gulf region.” There are currently 58 Malaysians, mostly students, in Iran, and 160 others in Iraq — bulk of whom are personnel of the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas. Meanwhile, Malaysian Minister of Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin expressed concern air navigation would be disrupted due to tension escalation throughout the Middle East, disclosing that Malaysia Airlines halted flights over Iran and Iraq. – Agencies

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