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Overseas Filipino Workers: Jobs in Libya better than coming home

Publication Date : 05-08-2014


Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Libya prefer to stay in the strife-torn North African country, claiming they have “better chances of surviving” there than in the Philippines, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.

Only 1,700 Filipinos working in Libya have signed up for repatriation since the Philippine government ordered a mandatory evacuation of its more than 13,000 workers there last month, said Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

The government has chartered a ship to transport the OFWs this week from Libya to Malta, where flights will be arranged to take them home.

The DFA said it was talking to Philippine Airlines (PAL) for a charter flight to bring the Filipinos home from Malta.

About 160 Filipinos have escaped by land to Tunisia, including 50 workers who were briefly stranded when the border crossing was shut by authorities on Friday night due to violence that erupted amid the rush to escape from Libya, Del Rosario said.

“I’m not sure that we can get 50 per cent to come home,” Del Rosario said on Sunday upon his arrival in Manila from Tunisia, where he helped arrange the evacuation of Filipino workers in Libya.

Del Rosario said President Aquino deployed him to Tunisia with an order for him to make sure “no one gets left behind,” but he added that many simply refused to leave despite the danger.

“They’re so scared, but their concerns are their jobs,” he said.

“I was told that if some of them go out of their houses, they get divested of their money and cell phones,” he said. “That is very scary. Nobody seems to be in charge. There are no evident police forces so if you get in trouble, you’re on your own.”

Filipino nurses are especially apprehensive about leaving because employers have enticed them to stay with additional pay and they are committed to their hospital work, Del Rosario said.

Since mid-July, Libya has seen deadly clashes between rival militias fighting for control of key population centers, including the eastern city of Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli.

The Tripoli airport has been closed since gunmen, mostly Islamist, attacked it in a bid to wrest control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it for the past three years, after the violent uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The latest flare-up of violence, which erupted during the weekend, takes the death toll in Tripoli to 124 since July 13, with more than 500 wounded.

Despite the danger, many Filipinos in Libya have ignored the government’s order for mandatory evacuation, DFA spokesman Charles Jose told reporters on Monday.

“The usual reason we hear from them is that they would rather take the chance. They think they have greater chances of surviving the war [there] than of surviving uncertainty [without jobs] here,” Jose said.

If the government had its way, he said, all OFWs in Libya, including the health workers, would be brought back home.
“But it’s still their decision whether to go home or stay behind,” Jose said.

As fighting between rival militias escalated, the Philippine government imposed a travel ban on Libya on May 30, warning the Filipinos there to leave.

It then ordered a mandatory evacuation on July 20, after the kidnapping and beheading of a Filipino construction worker in Benghazi.

A Filipino nurse was also abducted and gang-raped in Tripoli last Wednesday, sparking a walkout by her colleagues in Tripoli Medical Center.

The Philippine order for mandatory evacuation has alarmed Libyan health authorities, who have warned of a possible “total collapse” of the country’s healthcare system if all the Filipino doctors and nurses, who make up 60 per cent of Libya’s hospital staff, are taken back home.

So far, more than 830 OFWs have returned home. A total of 111 workers are arriving in three groups on commercial flights this week starting Monday night. They are the last group of Filipino evacuees to cross the Tunisia-Libya border as the passage was closed Friday.

The three groups will bring to 942 the number of Filipino workers returning from Libya since the government’s May 30 warning to leave.


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