PH to citizens: Exit points in Libya ‘quickly diminishing’
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Saturday, August 2, issued an urgent appeal for its citizens in Libya – estimated at 13,000 – to avail of its repatriation program as it warned them of the “quickly diminishing" exit points in the strife-torn country.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who arrived in Tunisia on Friday to oversee the evacuation efforts, made the appeal as he noted that Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt had been sealed off, as well as major airports.
“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) is appealing with urgency to those who have not made the decision to be repatriated to please consider doing so as the avenues of repatriation are quickly diminishing,” the DFA said in a statement.
In an interview on ANC’s World Tonight late Friday, Del Rosario, who had just arrived in Tunisia, said the Philippines’ repatriation effort faces “several challenges” but the most basic is to make Filipinos in Libya recognize the urgency of fleeing the escalating violence in that country.
“The basic challenge is to get people to come home; to get them to recognize that the exacerbating violence is something that they need to think about and worry about….We want everyone to come home because we see that the conditions here are very dangerous and we hope that people will heed our call,” he said.
‘Diminishing’ exit points
Illustrating the urgency of getting Filipinos out of Libya soonest, Del Rosario said 50 Filipinos were supposed to cross the Libyan border with Tunisia on Friday night, but Philippine officials were informed that the border had been closed that day because of a shooting incident on July 31, caused by the unruly surge of refugees trying to flee Libya.
He said the border crossing from Libya to Egypt at As Salloum had been closed for some months now, and that some major airports have also been shut down, further narrowing the avenues for repatriation.
“Our options are getting more limited everyday,” Del Rosario said.
The Cabinet official said the Philippines is fortunate to contract a 1,500-capacity ship that would ferry Filipinos from Libya to Malta, as ships out of Libya are in high demand by various foreign governments for the same purpose.
The ship would fetch Philippine repatriates from Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, if necessary, and then back to Malta as transit point for flights to Manila.
Del Rosario said the situation now is different from 2011, when the Philippines also leased a ship to repatriate Filipinos from Libya. This time, he said, it is more difficult to get ships so Filipinos should seize the opportunity to leave Libya now.
“It’s very difficult to get ships. The bidding price is coming up because more and more people want to get out of Libya,” he said, adding that prces are also driven by the reluctance of shipowners to head to Libya.
For this reason, Del Rosario hopes Filipinos in Libya would be compeled to heed their government’s mandatory evacuation order and fill up the chartered ship to capacity.
“We’re hopeful because the situation exacerbates as we speak. So hopefully we can get those numbers when the ship is ready. We are arranging to negotiate for that ship to make itself available again few days after if needed. But this is under negotiation,” he said.
The DFA chief added, “Many shipowners do not want to go to Libya, that’s why the rates are very high but we were able to do this successfully in 2011; we’re hoping we can have the same success.”
Del Rosario also said the Philippines is “entering into a cooperative effort with other countries in terms of providing consular assistance.”
“So it’s possible that if we have space in the ships we will be contracting, we will be bringing out as well citizens from other countries,” he said.
‘Tell family, friends: Come home now’
Of the estimated 13,000 Filipinos in Libya, about 800 have been repatriated. There are currently over 200 in the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli who are being processed for repatriation, and a few hundred more have expressed their desire to come home.
Del Rosario said 110 Filipino workers are expected to arrive in Manila on Sunday.
The Cabinet official met with some of the 95 overseas Filipino workers ready to be repatriated from Libya on Friday night, and urged them to convince their friends and co-workers still in Libya to avail of mandatory evacuation.
The current batch of Filipino evacuees crossed the Tunisian border of Ras Ajdir on July 31. They were bused to the Island of Djerba, over 120 kilometers from the border, where they are being temporarily hosteled, while awaiting their flights to Manila on Sunday, the DFA said.
Del Rosario assured them and those who have yet to avail of the current mandatory repatriation program, of the continuing assistance of the Philippine government through the Rapid Response Team (RRT) composed of members from the DFA, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) the Philippine National Police (PNP), and Philippine Foreign Service Posts in surrounding areas.
The situation in Libya has so far claimed one official Filipino casualty, a construction worker who was beheaded in Benghazi, while a Filipino nurse was abducted and gang-raped in Tripoli on Wednesday. – Rappler.com