MANILA — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is set to conduct its first assessment on the situation of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Libya starting on Monday, to determine the lifting or maintenance of the current Crisis Alert Level 3 in the said conflict-stricken African nation.
“We will be having a thorough assessment on the situation in Libya every 15 days. If the evaluation warranted to lift the current alert level status, existing contracts may be given a chance to return”, DFA Spokesperson Assistant Secretary Charles E. Jose said in an exclusive interview with the Philippines News Agency (PNA).
Jose noted though that the return of OFWs to Libya is not an assurance until the situation in the country has been proven safe for the workers.
DFA has described the situation in Libya as “volatile” according to the evaluation of teams sent to Libya. However, the agency admitted that there has been a difficulty in encouraging them to leave in spite of their continouous plead to OFWs for voluntary repatriation.
“Many have been saying that there are no casulaties yet. The reason is, why do we need to wait for someone to die?” Jose noted.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has already implemented a deployment ban last May 23 on newly-hired workers bound to Libya due to the ongoing conflict in the country which resulted to DFA’s decision to raise crisis alert level status from level 2 or the restriction phase to level 3 which means OFWs are encouraged for voluntary repatriation especially those in Benghazi and Tripoli which are considered as vulnerable areas in Libya.
Last May 28, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario went to Tripoli to meet with Philippine Embassy officials and the rapid response team of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to implement the government’s contingency plan.
About 53 Libya OFWs in two batches arrived in the country on Wednesday while another three OFWs are expected to be repatriated Saturday. The DFA is currently negotiating with 195 affected OFWs who accepted voluntary repatriation. There are about 13,122 OFWs in Libya.
Aside from the repatriation of OFWs in Libya, another problem being faced by the government is the reintegration programs for the OFWs who left their jobs in the conflict-stricken country.
“There are those who asked us how they will be able to return to the jobs they left in Libya. The problem now is that they are not allowed to go back to Libya due to Alert Level 3,” Gil Correa, Africa Division Case Officer in DFA said adding that some OFWs are only staying in the Philippines for a vacation.
Correa further noted that they have no idea on how long the conflict in Libya would take thus prolonging the stay of OFWs in the country who have pending jobs in Libya.
POEA has reintegration programs for OFWs who returned from Libya such as livelihood programs, business and scholarships, Correa further noted adding that most OFWs who returned come from the Visayas and Mindanao.
“POEA, DOLE, and Immigration have issued an order disallowing Filipinos to go back to Libya. That is what we are addressing right now,” Jose said.
Crisis has plagued the African country since the people have been divided among Islamist groups and armed militias who stormed the parliament and waged an uprising on May 18 against the government.
The movement has put an end to Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship and since then, Libya has been in turmoil and unstable state of politics which thereby brings chaos across the country due to lack of government, military or police to uphold peace and order.
To date, many countries have closed their embassies like U.S., India, and China which ordered their nationals to leave the country while Korea, Pakistan and China have already imposed a travel ban.
DFA is said to continue its call for Libya OFWs to avail of voluntary repatriation and not wait for worse situations to come as the primary concern of the government is their security.
“We are consistent in our call to OFWs in Libya not to wait for the situation to get worse before they decide to return to the country but instead take this opportunity being offered by the government to voluntarily be repatriated,” Jose concluded.