THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday said it was “ready to respond” to any contingency that might arise from brewing tensions in the Middle East to ensure the safety of about two million Filipinos working in the region.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in a statement, gave assurances that the DFA was continuously monitoring developments in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“Of course, we are very much concerned with what is happening in the Middle East because whether we like it or not we would be affected by the outcome of developments taking place there,” Cayetano said from Vietnam where he was attending the 29th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum.
“We would like to assure the public, however, that there is no need to be alarmed at this point but if the situation escalates, we can be expected to respond and lead our kababayan (countrymen) out of harm’s way,” he said.
Cayetano has expressed concern over last week’s ballistic missile attack in Saudi Arabia, host to almost one million Filipino workers. He said the attack, which targeted the heavily populated airport area in Riyadh, endangered the lives of innocent civilians, including Filipinos.
The DFA is closely watching the situation in Lebanon, host to almost 30,000 Filipino workers, after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ordered their nationals to leave the country.
Cayetano also said the DFA was monitoring the situation in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, host to 3,000 Filipino workers, after tensions between Baghdad and Erbil went up following an independence referendum in the region.
The Office of Migrant Workers Affairs headed by Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola is closely monitoring the situation on the ground in close coordination with the Philippine embassies in Riyadh, Beirut and Baghdad.
Arriola said the contingency plans of the three foreign service posts have been updated and that the DFA is ready to raise alert levels and issue an order for mandatory evacuation if the situation calls for it.
She said DFA rapid response teams were also on standby, ready to be deployed anytime to assist in any evacuation.
A rapid response team from the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad is now in Erbil to assist in the repatriation of Filipinos who have expressed their desire to leave as a result of tensions in the Kurdistan region.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has again offered to assist the DFA in case the need for mass evacuation arises.