The Philippines dispatched its foreign minister on Thursday to oversee the evacuation of 13 000 citizens from Libya after a Filipino construction worker was beheaded and a nurse gang-raped there.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he is reprising a 2011 mission to Tunisia that also evacuated, mostly by ferry, thousands of Filipino workers during the uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“Our major challenge, as in 2011, is to convince our folks that they must leave Libya at the soonest time to avoid the perils of a highly exacerbating situation there,” he told reporters.
The Philippine government ordered a mandatory evacuation on July 20, hours after the discovery in Benghazi city of the beheaded remains of a Filipino construction worker who had been abducted five days earlier.
It also imposed a travel ban to the violence plagued country.
On Wednesday a Filipina nurse was abducted by a gang of youths outside her residence in the capital Tripoli then taken elsewhere where she was gang-raped by up to six suspects, the foreign department said.
She was released about two hours later and a Filipino consular team took her to hospital for treatment, a foreign department spokesman said.
“We condemn these crimes that have been committed against our people,” President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters in Manila.
Despite the dangers, del Rosario said many of the Filipinos, mostly employed in Libyan construction and hospitals, are refusing to leave because they would be out of a job back home.
Only just over 700 had left Libya by Wednesday, according to a foreign ministry tally, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, with warring militias battling for control of key population centres.
Del Rosario said he is flying to Djerba island in neighbouring Tunisia to “try to convince our people to leave (Libya) because the situation there is very dangerous”.
“We are in the process of engaging ships from Malta that would pick up our people from Benghazi, Misurata and hopefully Tripoli then return to Malta for air transport to Manila,” he said.
While each vessel could carry up to 1 500 people, he said the government was still negotiating the evacuees' safe passage through these ports.
Failing that, the Filipinos would be bussed to Djerba where flight arrangements would be made, he added.
The government had also evacuated thousands of its nationals from Libya during the 2011 upheaval that toppled Gaddafi, some boarding ferries that took them to Malta where they later caught flights back to the Philippines.
Many of them later returned to their jobs in Libya.
About 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad, many of them in the Middle East, in search of better-paying jobs.
The Philippines has also ordered about 100 Filipinos living in Gaza to leave the besieged Palestinian territory as Israel presses its offensive against Hamas militants. - Sapa-AFP