Forced repatriation of OFWs in Iraq to push through despite eased US-Iran tension

Maris Federez   •   January 9, 2020   •   169

Supporters of Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite armed groups popular mobilization forces gather around the coffins of slain Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and his companions during a funeral procession in Basra city, southern Iraq on 07 January 2020. Thousands of Iraqi Shiite people have joined the funeral procession in Basra for Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and the Four others killed in a US drone strike at the Baghdad international airport on 03 January 2020. EPA-EFE/STR

MANILA, Philippines — The mandatory repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Iraq will push as planned even as the tension between the United States of America and Iran has begun to ease down.

Philippine Special Envoy to the Middle East Secretary Roy Cimatu announced that around 1,600 OFWs have manifested their agreement to the mandatory repatriation, with 29 saying they are ready to fly out of the country anytime.

Cimatu made the announcement on Thursday (January 9) during a press briefing before flying to Iraq.

The official said the government has already mapped up a contingency plan on having the OFWs flown out of Iraq to the Philippines.

“However, I was told that there are airlines that are still operating and these are really our contingency plan for their departure out of Baghdad in case that’s open.  They will resort to a land movement out of Baghdad probably to Amman, Jordan,” the official said.

Sec. Cimatu explained that the Philippine government will never be at ease on withdrawing its directive for mandatory repatriation of OFWs while the alert level in Iraq is still raised to 4.

Cimatu added that the current situation in the Middle East is still considered unpredictable.

“The problem is also the time of the attack. So we don’t have to wait for this to happen.  So we have to start now moving them out habang medyo open pa airtport, clear pa iyon mga kalsada […] I would still really suggest that we have to move them already even without any conflict pa,” he said.

The official further appealed to the Filipinos in Iraq to heed the government’s directive to evacuate.

All the OFWs, especially the undocumented ones, have to do is coordinate with the Philippine Embassy for them to be given the necessary assistance.

Meanwhile, Filipinos in Iran and Lebanon will no longer be covered by the mandatory repatriation.

In a statement, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III said OFWs in the said countries are no longer in danger as the alert level has been lowered.

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

The secretary, however, said deployment ban of first time workers to Iran and Lebanon remains and that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will stop the processing of applications for employment in the said countries. —(from the report of Aiko Miguel) /mbmf

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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Two Filipinos trafficked into Iraq back in PH – DFA

Robie de Guzman   •   January 17, 2020

DFA-OUMWA welcomes home two more Filipinos from Baghdad, Iraq. Both are victims of human trafficking. The Philippine government shouldered their airfare and exit visa. Fifteen Filipinos have been brought home since mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq was declared on January 8, 2020.

MANILA, Philippines – Two Filipino women who were trafficked into Iraq have returned to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

In a statement, the DFA said the two females who repatriated from Baghdad, Iraq arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday afternoon.

Department representatives welcomed the two repatriates who were both victims of human trafficking.

The DFA said a total of 15 Filipinos have been brought home since the government ordered for mandatory repatriation of Filipino workers in Iraq last January 8.

The mandatory evacuation order was triggered by the hoisting of alert level 4 due to the security threats in the Middle East.

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

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 after its missile attack against US forces.

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