A group of 50 Filipinos escaping the war in Libya made it to neighboring Tunisia before the border was closed on Friday.
The Filipinos crossed into the Tunisian border outpost at Ras Ajdir, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported on Sunday.
They were taken to the island of Djerba, more than 120 kilometers from the border, where they are waiting for their flights to Manila on Monday.
The DFA has appealed to the remaining Filipinos in Libya to sign up soon for the government’s repatriation program because “the avenues of repatriation are quickly diminishing.”
The Philippine Embassy in Tripoli has repatriated 831 of the 13,000 Filipinos who are still in Libya, many of whom refused to leave their jobs despite the escalating conflict.
Fighting between militia groups has shut down the international airport in the capital Tripoli, forcing the Philippinemission to look for other routes for Filipinos who want to leave.
With Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt closed, the only way out is by sea, from the ports of Benghazi and Misrata.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who is in Tunisia to better supervise the repatriation efforts, met on Saturday with the 50 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Del Rosario lauded the group for their decision to take advantage of the Philippine government’s mandatory repatriation program.
He asked them “to continue to convince their friends and co-workers who are still in Libya to likewise avail of the said program.”
Del Rosario said the DFA has chartered a ship to bring Filipino evacuees from Benghazi and Misrata across the Mediterranean Sea to Malta for their flights home.
The DFA put up 24-hour hotline numbers (02) 552-7105 / (02) 834-4685 for families who have questions and concerns about the condition of their relatives in Libya. The DFA may also be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
A small group of Filipino workers flew home from Libya also on Saturday.
The 21 Filipinos, red-eyed and weary from lack of sleep and a long journey, arrived home using tickets paid for by the Philippine government.
“It was difficult. There were explosions night and day,” oil pipeline welder Michael Antalan, 37, said.
Their Libyan company stopped work on July 20 and allowed them to seek refuge in the embassy in Tripoli, about two hours’ drive away.
Rose Biros, 33, a domestic worker in Tripoli, and husband Abraham, the family cook and also 33, sought permission to return home after a bullet slammed into a terrace wall of their employer’s home on July 20.
“At first he refused, insisting it was safe to stay. How can it be safe when there were stray bullets flying around? After three days he finally let us go,” she said.
The Philippine government imposed a travel ban on Libya on May 30, when it also warned Filipinos there to leave.
With PNA and AFP