PHILIPPINES: Pinoys Working in Iraq Not Will Not Be Evacuated

After reports of U.S. pressure, Philippines clarifies that call for Filipino workers employed by contractors to leave Iraq is only voluntary. "We are ready to implement mass repatriation if it becomes necessary, but the government is only undertaking vol

The Department of Labor and Employment yesterday ruled out the possible forced repatriation of 6,000 Filipino workers from Iraq, including those employed at US bases there.

Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said that although the government is calling on all Filipino workers in Iraq to return home, the repatriation of these workers would be done on a voluntary basis.

"We are ready to implement mass repatriation if it becomes necessary, but the government is only undertaking voluntary repatriation of workers from Iraq" at this time, Sto. Tomas said.

Since the abduction of Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz in July last year, Sto. Tomas said the Philippine government had been urging Filipino workers in Iraq to return home.

"We have been asking them to come home since the time of Angelo's kidnapping, but most of them wanted to stay. In fact, most of them opted to extend their working contracts," Sto. Tomas said.

She added that Filipino workers remain reluctant to leave Iraq despite the recent deaths of two other Filipino workers.

"While we want to protect Filipino workers from harm, we cannot physically force them to return home," she said.

Earlier, the US government expressed concern over the possible disruption of operations at their military bases in Iraq due to plans to repatriate Filipino workers from the conflict-ridden Gulf state.

Migrante International, a militant group representing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), is also pressing for the mass repatriation of OFWs from Iraq due to the escalating violence there.

Migrante said the US government prefers to hire OFWs because they are willing to accept lower wages than overseas workers of other nationalities.

Anglo-European International Recruitment Services, which deploys Filipino workers to Iraq, denied Migrante's claims and said OFWs are earning above-average salaries.

The average salary of OFWs employed in US bases "ranges from $500 to $1,200" monthly, aside from other benefits, AEIRS spokesman Manny Geslani said.

Geslani also said OFWs are very satisfied with their salaries and have refused to even take vacations because they fear they will be unable to return and work at the US bases in Iraq.

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