Desperate Philippine workers stay in Libya

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iol pic afr EPA libya-filipinos-unrest EPA Filipino contract workers Ariel Nogol, left, and Wency Ledesma, right, who were repatriated from Libya, display images of war torn city of Benghazi (R) and an armed Libyan rebel (L) on their cellphones as they arrive at Manila's international airport. Picture: FRANCIS R MALASIG

Cairo - More than 11 000 Filipinos in Libya have ignored appeals to evacuate, with many apparently choosing to take their chances in the war-torn country rather than risk unemployment at home, a foreign department spokesman said on Monday.

Only 200 were at the Philippine embassy in Tripoli even as the government prepares to send a chartered ship to ferry them out, spokesman Charles Jose said.

Originally there were 13 000 Filipinos working in Libya but after the government called on them to return, due to the worsening security situation, only “a little more than 1 000” had fled or were waiting to leave, he said.

“So we have 11 000-plus OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) who have not arranged to leave,” Jose said.

“We are hearing that a lot of them would rather take the chance of surviving the war rather than (risking) the uncertainty of not having work here,” he told reporters.

He added that while some might be willing to risk the danger, others, especially those working in the medical field, might be under pressure to stay.

iol pic afr 4_PHILIPPINES-CONFLICT-_0804_11 Filipino workers who arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport from conflict-torn Libya wait with their belongings at the airport in Manila. Picture: Romeo Ranoco REUTERS

Jose also said Libyan authorities were asking medical workers to remain because their departure would paralyse the health service which is heavily reliant on Filipino personnel.

“It is still their decision whether they would like to come back or stay behind,” he said.

A ferry capable of carrying about 1 500 people would arrive in Libya by Friday to evacuate Filipinos and would return to Malta by Sunday from where they would be flown out, Jose said.

The Philippines has been calling for its nationals to return from Libya, warning that the situation there could deteriorate to the point where they cannot be repatriated.

These calls have grown louder after a Filipino construction worker was abducted and then beheaded by unknown suspects last month and a Filipina nurse was gang-raped in Tripoli on Wednesday.

The Philippines previously launched a mass evacuation of its workers in Libya in 2011, when most of the 30 000 Filipinos there left during the violent chaos leading to the toppling of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

About 10 million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money in a wide range of sectors than they could in their impoverished homeland.

At least 40 Filipino workers from Libya arrived at Manila's international airport on Monday, recounting the dangers they faced but also giving reasons they wanted to stay.

Welder Marlon Lerio, who worked in Misrata, said he was frightened by people firing warning shots as buses evacuated him and other Filipinos out of Libya.

But he also described how he and many others had paid hefty “placement fees” to recruitment agencies so they could find a job abroad.

“We paid a lot to our agency and now, we have no assurance we can get our placement fee back. I was contracted to work there for two years but I only worked two and a half months,” he said.

“I had to take loans just to get to Libya. It cost about 100 000 pesos ($2 300),” he told AFP, adding he did not know how he would make the money back. - AFP



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