No repatriation: Despite missile strike, OFWs near Iraq air base won't leave

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 09 2020 11:13 AM | Updated as of Jan 09 2020 11:14 AM

A field hit by an Iranian missile, according to local media, is seen near Erbil, Iraq January 8, 2020, in this still image obtained from social media. Blesa Shaways via Reuters

Despite missile attacks on a military base there, Filipinos working in Erbil in Iraq said it is highly unlikely that they will agree to be repatriated back to the Philippines.

Overseas Filipino worker "Mark" said he and other Filipinos were at a bar when an explosion hit Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdistan Region, north of Iraq, early Wednesday. 

He said the explosion was the worst they’ve experienced, prompting them to immediately go home and check up on their friends.

"The moment it happened, we left the bar, which was just beside the US consulate. People started running so we ran as well. We got a taxi and went home,” he said in an interview on radio DZMM. 

He said they did not know where to go in case of danger. “The embassy has no exit plan, contingency plan,” he said, explaining that while the embassy went live online to talk to the Filipinos in Iraq, it did not specify what they will need to do next time there is an attack.

Iraqi military officials earlier said Iran had fired 22 missiles at two military bases in Iraq where US troops are stationed. 

Reports said the air base in Erbil was targeted by Iran in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander.

Despite the explosion, Mark said they would rather stay in Erbil since there are no more attacks. He said he thinks there are about 3,000 Filipinos in the city who earn a starting salary of 700 dollars (P35,000) or higher. 

"In my opinion, I won’t agree to be repatriated. They did not promise anything,” Mark said.

“What will happen to us when we are repatriated back to the Philippines? We will not have anything to eat,” he said, recalling the response of his friends.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Cacdac, who talked to Mark during the interview, assured Filipinos in Erbil that there will be alternative livelihoods for those who will be repatriated.

FAMILIES TO SUPPORT

“It’s a security issue. The presumption here is that there is threat to life and property,” he added. “If life is in danger, the issue is not whether you will have to leave your job. It’s a lesser priority.”

Cacdac also said that alternative means of employment in other countries are also being considered.

He also assured Mark that he will help connect them to the Philippine Embassy.

In another DZMM interview, former undersecretary Rafael Seguis, who was Philippine envoy to Iraq in the 90s, said it really is challenging to convince overseas Filipino workers to return home.

“They have work there. They have salaries. They are happy with their livelihood,” he said. “How will they return? Will they be allowed by their employers? It will cost them to pay their employers back.”

Seguis said that during his time, the conflict was even worse with many people being injured and killed but Filipinos still did not want to go home.

“They have families to support. How will they pay their employers? Will they be able to find work and will they be able to return (to that country)?” he said.

Seguis said they cannot force the Filipinos to return with them so they will have to convince them.

In an interview over ANC’s Headstart, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that while there is a total deployment ban and mandatory evacuation in Iraq there is no longer an alert level for Iran because the situation is back to normal. The alert level in Lebanon was also lowered to level 2.