THE Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday said it is ready to respond to any contingency arising from the brewing tensions in the Middle East to ensure the safety of the close to 2 million Filipinos working in the region.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano assured the public that the DFA is on top of the situation and that it is continuously monitoring developments in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“Of course, we are very much concerned with what is happening in the Middle East because whether we like it or not we would be affected by the outcome of developments taking place there,” Cayetano said from Vietnam where he is attending the 29th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum.
“We would like to assure the public, however, that there is no need to be alarmed at this point but if the situation escalates, we can be expected to respond and lead our kababayans out of harm’s way,” SmCayetano said.
In his statement, the Secretary also expressed his concern over last week’s ballistic missile attack in Saudi Arabia, host to almost one million Filipino workers.
He said the attack, which targeted the heavily populated airport area in Riyadh, endangered the lives of many innocent civilians, including Filipinos.
The Secretary said the DFA is also closely watching the situation in Lebanon, host to almost 30,000 Filipino workers, after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates ordered their nationals to leave the country.
In Iraq, the Secretary said the DFA is monitoring the situation in the Kurdistan Region, host to 3,000 Filipino workers, after tensions between Baghdad and Erbil went up in the aftermath of an independence referendum in the region.
Cayetano said the DFA Office of Migrant Workers Affairs headed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola is closely monitoring the situation on the ground in close coordination with the Philippine embassies in Riyadh, Beirut and Baghdad.
According to Arriola, contingency plans of the three foreign service posts have been updated and that the DFA is ready to raise alert levels and issue an order for mandatory evacuation of the situation calls for it.
She said DFA rapid response teams are also on standby ready to be deployed anytime to assist in any evacuation.
Arriola said a rapid response team from the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad is now in Erbil where is it assisting in the repatriation of Filipinos who have expressed their desire to leave as a result of tensions in the Kurdistan region.
She also said the DFA had made representations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has again offered to assist in case there would be a need for mass evacuation.
Arriola said for emergencies, the hotline of the Office of Migrant Workers Affairs is (0917) 569 5653.