Philippines prepares to evacuate citizens from Iraq and Iran

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships “at any moment’s notice” to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran, reflecting Asia’s growing fears for its citizens amid a potential outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labour may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week’s US air strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said last week it would increase the security of about 1,600 of its nationals in Iraq, where they work mostly on construction sites. India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India was not yet planning to evacuate any citizens from the region.

Mr Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defence secretary and top military and police officials Sunday to discuss the evacuation plans.

“President Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any moment's notice,” said Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally of Mr Duterte who was at the meeting.

Iran has vowed to retaliate and President Donald warned American forces would hit back at 52 Iranian targets if Americans come under attack. Iraq's parliament has also called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, which could revive the ISIS group in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.

Compounding contingency plans is the uncertainty where hostilities could possibly break out.

Military chief of staff Lt Gen Felimon Santos Jr said Philippine forces have identified possible evacuation routes not only in Iraq and Iran but other hotspots such as Israel.

“There are probabilities like that and we are improving our plans just to cover everything just in case something happens,” Gen Santos told reporters in Manila.

Filipinos protest in Manila  on January 6, 2020 against the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. AP Photo

There are more than 7,000 Filipino workers and their dependents in Iraq and Iran, including many who work in US and other foreign facilities and commercial establishments in Baghdad, the Department of National Defence said.

The workers in Iran and Iraq are a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who are employed in countries lining the Arabian Gulf.

Updated: January 6, 2020 12:39 PM

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