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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MANILA, Philippines: 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 labor may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week’s US airstrike that killed Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would work to increase the security of about 1,600 of its nationals in Iraq, where they work mostly in construction sites.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said India wasn’t planning to evacuate any citizens from the volatile region “yet.”
Meanwhile, China criticized the US for aggravating tension in the Middle East through its military interventionism and urged all parties to exercise restraint to ensure peace and stability.
Beijing also urges the US not to abuse its force, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing on Monday.
Asked about President Donald Trump’s threat of sanctions against Iraq, Geng said China opposed wanton use of the threat of sanctions.
Mexico also expressed concern about the recent events in Iraq and Iran and asked all parties involved to act with restraint and avoid escalating regional tensions.
“In accordance with the constitutional principles of foreign policy, (Mexico) endorses the value of dialogue and negotiation in the resolution of international disputes,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said on Twitter.
South Africa’s ruling party has condemned the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander as an “act of international terrorism.”
The statement appeared in a Facebook post over the weekend and was issued by party secretary-general Ace Magashule. The ruling party is the former liberation movement African National Congress once led by Nelson Mandela.
South Africa’s foreign ministry released a more measured statement Friday supporting Iraq’s sovereignty and calling for dialogue and calm.
The ANC party statement called the “raw aggression” an attack on Iran’s sovereignty and it called for maximum restraint.
Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defense 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 Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally of the Duterte who was at the meeting.
Iran has vowed to retaliate and President Donald Trump 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 Daesh 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, like Israel.
“There are probabilities like that and we are improving our plans just to cover everything just in case something happens,” Santos told reporters in Manila.
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 Defense 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.
The Philippines is a leading source of labor worldwide with about a tenth of its more than 100 million people working mostly as household help, construction workers, seamen and professionals.
Other countries face similar dilemmas. Asians make up 40 percent of the world’s migrants, and Middle Eastern countries are a common destination.
Gulf Arab states are home to more than 7 million Indian expatriates who help drive the region’s economy and keep its cities teeming with doctors, engineers, teachers, drivers, construction workers and other laborers. In United Arab Emirates, Indians outnumber Emiratis three to one.
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