DFA firm on alert level 3 for Ebola-hit countries

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ONLY two Filipinos in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa want to leave, but that is not stopping the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) from raising alert level 3, which calls for voluntary repatriation, soon.

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The department announced three weeks ago it will raise alert level 3 in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia by mid-November.

So far only two Filipinos there have signed up to be repatriated.

“It’s our mandate to look after their welfare and if in our assessment we determine there is a threat, it’s our responsibility to keep them out of harm’s way,” Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a press briefing on Thursday.

About 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad.

Jose said repatriation is still an “individual decision” and the department cannot force Filipinos to go home.

“We strongly urge them to leave [the]Ebola-infected countries for their own safety,” he said.

The fact that only two Filipinos registered for repatriation means that they think they are not at risk or “they are relatively safe there,” Jose said.

The DFA lists 806 Filipinos in the three West African nations, most of them professionals.

None, however, work in the health sector, the industry most vulnerable to the disease.

Under alert level 3, a total deployment ban would also be enforced, Jose said. This means that newly hired and returning workers will not be allowed to leave for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Filipinos who are vacationing here but wish to go back to the West African nations will not be allowed to do so.

The department plans to raise alert level 3 by next week, Jose said.

A Rapid Response Team (RRT) will be sent to West Africa next week “to assess the situation of our nationals and to help our embassy in Abuja [the capital of Nigeria],” he said.

There are no permanent Philippine representatives in the three countries. Philippine interests there fall under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Abuja.

The team, which will be coming from Abuja as well as in the DFA headquarters in Manila, is undergoing training before their deployment.

Jose said it’s an interagency team, and the Foreign Affairs department is coordinating with other agencies.

Under alert level 3, the expense for bringing home Filipino workers must be shouldered by their employers.

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