Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario raised the crisis alert level in South Sudan from two to three because of the continuing violent strikes there between the government and the opposition group.
In a text message, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the department is now calling on some 95 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there to seek repatriation from the Philippine Embassy in Kenya or the rapid response team, which departed Manila last night.
The announcement came amid the US government’s decision to evacuate its citizens from a rebel-held town and as hospitals reported that about 500 have already died in the inter-ethnic fighting.
South Sudan, a relatively young government that earned its independence from Sudan in June last year, is under the jurisdiction of the embassy in Kenya.
Alert level three means voluntary repatriation, which effectively activates the Philippine government’s repatriation program. All expenses incurred under the program, especially if the workers’ employers are unable to pay for their repatriation, will be shouldered by the Philippine government.
“Our citizens are advised to defer travel to South Sudan regardless of purpose. A total deployment ban will also be imposed by POEA [Philippine Overseas Employment Administration],” Hernandez said.
Of the 95 OFWs recorded in South Sudan, 23 traveled to Kenya and 15 are now in Uganda, he revealed.
The Filipinos in Kenya are planning to go back to the Philippines from there while those in Uganda would want to stay there until the security situation in South Sudan stabilizes.
Hernandez said the department already requested the Ugandan government to let the Filipino stay there “in the meantime.”
An embassy team and the Philippine honorary consul in Uganda are committed to help the Filipinos taking refuge there, the official maintained.
Meanwhile, Hernandez reported that around eight OFWs will be evacuated by their employers while the embassy is looking to book Manila-bound flights for five other workers.
For now, the department is also verifying reports that a number of OFWs have evacuated to neighboring Khartoum in Sudan and Uganda.
“Efforts are now underway to locate these groups and the remaining OFWs in South Sudan,” Hernandez said.
Violence has been escalating in South Sudan since last week after former Vice President Riek Machar allegedly attempted a coup.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir offered to open talks with the opposition but Machar denied the coup attempt and instead accused Kiir of conducting a “violent purge” over the past week.
Government forces and Machar’s loyalists are now fighting against each other.
Tens of thousands of people have been affected by th fighting, with some taking shelter in United Nations bases.
United States President Barack Obama, for his part, warned South Sudan that Washington and its allies will cut aid to the country if a coup is pursued.
Following its declaration of independence in 2012, the Philippines immediately recognized South Sudan as a sovereign state, with the two nations establishing formal diplomatic relations in March of this year after the signing of a joint communiqué that aims to strengthen economic relations and cooperation on global issues. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON