Filipinos in Iraq urged to go on leave as US-Iran tension escalates

Marje Pelayo   •   January 7, 2020   •   338

A handout photo made available by Iranian Supreme Leader’s Office shows an areal view of the Azadi tower during the funeral of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Lieutenant general and commander of the Quds Force Qasem Soleimani and of other victims during their funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, 06 January 2020. Soleimani was killed in a targeted US airstrike on 03 January 2020 in Baghdad, Iraq.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) through the Philippine Embassy in Iraq advised Filipinos to shun travel to Iraq and Iran as conflicts begin to escalate after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander — Qasem Soleimani— in Baghdad’s international airport.

The Embassy likewise urged Filipino workers in the said countries to go on leave while those on vacation are advised to ask for an extension from their Iraqi employers.

“Mayroon tayong mga kababayan na kasalukuyan pang nasa Pilipinas. Kayo po ay pinapayuhan namin na makipagugnayan sa inyong employer dito sa Iraq tungkol sa inyong pagbalik. Kung kayo ay mayroong pag-aalinlangan, huwag magatubiling humingi ng extension ng inyong leave hanggang sa humupa ang sitwasyon dito,” Charge d’Affaires Jomar Sadie said in a live broadcast on Facebook on Sunday.

(We still have Filipino workers currently on vacation in the Philippines. We advise you to coordinate with your respective employers in Iraq regarding your return. Do not hesitate to ask for an extension of your leave until the situation here calms down.)

“Kung kayo naman ay narito at mayroon kayong katulad na pag-aalinlangan ay huwag kayong magatubili na humingi ng leave of absence para makauwi ng Pilipinas,” he added.

(If you are currently [in Iraq] but you are not sure of the situation, do not hesitate to ask for a leave of absence if you wish to go home to the Philippines.)

On January 3, the Embassy on its post on Facebook advised Filipinos who are currently in Iraq to review their passport validity, their contingency plans with their respective companies, and important documents namely the Undertaking for Demobilization of Workers.

The Embassy encouraged Filipinos to advise their companies about any indication of threat or danger.

Amid the tension, the US Embassy in Baghdad already issued an advisory to its citizens to immediately leave Iraq.

Thus, the Embassy is urging Filipinos who are employed by American companies to do so immediately.

So far, there are a total of 1,190 documented Filipinos in Iraq, according to Sadie.

Currently, the crisis alert level for all areas in Iraq has been raised to 3 which requires voluntary repatriation, the Embassy said.

Meanwhile, precautionary or alert level 1 is up for areas in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Filipinos in Iraq needing assistance may contact the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad at (+964) 781-606-6822; (+964) 751-616-7838; and (+964) 751-876-4665 or via email: baghdad.pe@dfa.gov.ph; and/or via facebook page: Philippine Embassy in Iraq.

Protocols urged for evacuation of OFWs amid nCoV outbreak

Marje Pelayo   •   January 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday (January 27) consulted with the Department of Health (DOH) on the establishment of health protocols for the evacuation of Filipinos from cities in China affected by novel coronavirus (nCoV) specifically in Wuhan City, the epicenter of the outbreak.

During the meeting, officials discussed potential measures to properly respond to health emergency prompted by the outbreak of nCoV in China and other countries.

Likewise, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Eduardo Malaya raised the need to formulate further health advisories for Filipinos including DOH hotlines in each Philippine foreign service post in China to which they can call.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje advised Filipinos in virus-affected areas to exercise precaution by avoiding crowded places, using masks and gloves, as well as practicing proper hand washing and hygiene to reduce the risk of nCoV infection.

The DFA said it is continuously reaching out to Filipinos in China through Embassy and Consulate officials.

Meanwhile, the DOH clarified and maintained that there are no reports of any Filipino, here and abroad, affected by nCoV, so far.

DOLE assures cash, livelihood aid for Filipinos repatriated from Middle East

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has assured that overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who were recently repatriated from the Middle East will be provided with livelihood and cash assistance from the government.

In a statement, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said returning Filipinos from Iraq amid tensions between the United States and Iran will get cash aid amounting to P20,000, for active members of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and P10,000 for non-active members.

Last January 15, around 13 Filipinos evacuated from Iraq arrived in Manila along with some labor officials.  

The DOLE said that a total of 1,640 Filipinos, documented and undocumented, are currently in Iraq. From these figures, 847 are staying in Baghdad, 655 in Erbil, and 148 in Sulaymaniyah.

The Philippine government ordered for a mandatory repatriation of Filipino workers in Iraq last January 8. It was triggered by the hoisting of alert level 4 due to the security threats in Middle East.

The alert level for Filipinos in Iraq was raised after Iran launched a series of ballistic missile attack at Iraq’s bases, where US forces were housed.

Iran’s firing of rockets was in retaliation for the death of top military general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last January 3.

On the same day, more than 170 passengers were killed after Iran shot down a Ukrainian plane while on alert following its missile attack against US forces.

Filipinos in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East who wish to avail of the government’s repatriation program are advised to contact the Embassy for assistance in securing exit visas and other necessary documents to ensure smooth repatriation process.

US soldiers injured in Iran’s attack on Iraqi military bases

UNTV News   •   January 17, 2020

US soldiers stand next to the damage caused by Iran’s missile attack inside Ain al-Assad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, 14 January 2020. EPA-EFE FILE/STR

Washington, DC — Eleven United States soldiers were injured in the Jan. 8 Iranian bombing of a military base in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani in a targeted strike, the US Central Command said in a statement Thursday.

Initially, the Pentagon had said that the attack had not caused any injuries but now, after re-evaluating the victims, it has identified some symptoms of possible concussions due to the force of the impact of the missiles.

“While no US service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” Centcom spokesperson Bill Urban said in a statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” in the days following the attack, eight soldiers were transported from the Al Asad air base in western Iraq to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, while three others were sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for follow-on screening, the official said.

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening,” he added.

After the attack on the air base, Iran warned that it was only the beginning of a series of retaliatory actions it would take to avenge the death of Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force and a highly respected figure in the Persian county, in a US targeted strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.

At the time, US President Donald Trump chose not to respond to the Iranian offensive with military force and said in a speech to the nation that he would impose more sanctions against Iran.

Those sanctions were directed against eight senior Iranian officials, including Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani, as well as against the country’s steel, iron, aluminum and copper industry.

“The United States is targeting senior Iranian officials for their involvement and complicity in Tuesday’s ballistic missile strikes,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said in a statement outlining the sanctions.

“We are also designating Iran’s largest metals manufacturers, and imposing sanctions on new sectors of the Iranian economy including construction, manufacturing, and mining,” he added.

Tehran and Washington, which have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, have experienced multiple crises since Trump ordered the US’ exit from a landmark multilateral agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program in 2018.

The current escalation of tension coincides with the downing of a Ukrainian aircraft by the Islamic Republic, which caused the death of all 176 people aboard. EFE-EPA

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