DFA warns of shrinking chances to leave Libya

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is now calling on Filipinos still in war-torn Libya to immediately leave the country following the closure of the Tunisian border.

"The DFA 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," said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in a statement on Sunday.

Tunisia closed on Saturday its main border crossing with Libya after thousands of foreign nationals, including Filipinos, tried to break through the Ras Ajdir fence.

Tunisia is the most accessible escape route from Libya, where rival armed groups have been battling for weeks.

Del Rosario said land evacuation is still ongoing while repatriation by sea is already forthcoming.

He said a vessel has been identified already to secure Filipinos safely from Benghazi and Misrata, to be ferried to Malta for their subsequent flights to the Philippines.

"We call on those that availed repatriation already to continue to convince their friends and co-workers, who are still in Libya, to likewise avail of the said program," said del Rosario.

Prior to the border’s closure, the Philippine government was able to repatriate 50 Filipinos through the Ras Ajdir fence.

Del Rosario said the Filipinos have already been transported to the island of Djerba, where they are being temporarily sheltered while waiting for their flights to Manila on Monday.

"We laud the workers for their good and timely decision to avail of the current mandatory repatriation program of the Philippine government," said del Rosario.

Meanwhile, Blas Ople Center head Susan Ople said on Twitter that some 500 overseas Filipino workers are presently trapped in their worksites and at loss on how to seek repatriation.

"Takot silang bumiyahe to Tripoli, 500 sila sa worksite," she said in her message to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

"They're anxious to come home. Some don't know how, while others are waiting for wages," added Ople.

The information comes amid the reported unwillingness of OFWs to repatriate due to lack of jobs in the Philippines.

To alleviate such fears, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) reiterated support to returning OFWs through Assist WELL (welfare, employment, livelihood, and legal) program.

"We want to be able to effectively convey to all OFWs, especially to those who were forced to leave their jobs in Libya for reasons not of their own making, that the government is prepared to welcome them in their own country and is ready to address their needs after they arrive," said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz in a statement.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is ready to provide airport assistance, temporary shelter and accommodation, transport assistance to residence, emergency medical assistance and stress debriefing to returning workers.

The Bureau of Local Employment (BLE), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and POEA have been tasked to provide employment assistance in the form of job placement/referral for local employment or overseas employment and competency assessment and certification for repatriated workers who wish to confirm whether they possess the competencies required in a preferred workplace.

Baldoz said returning workers looking to continue working, either locally or abroad, have the option to access the Enhanced PhilJobNet System (E-PJN), the government's web-based job matching facility.

Under livelihood assistance, the OWWA, the National Reintegration Center for OFWs and the Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns have been directed to offer entrepreneurial development training, livelihood skills training, hands-on business mentoring and support and business loan assistance, such as the "P10-K Livelihood Assistance", "Balik-Pinay, Balik-Hanapbuhay Program", and the P2-billion Reintegration Loan Fund.

The POEA is set to provide legal advice, conciliation proceeding to afford repatriated workers and their recruitment agencies a venue to discuss the possibility of amicable settlement, assistance in the preparation and filing of complaints for illegal recruitment, recruitment violation, and disciplinary action cases and counseling during preliminary investigation and hearings of criminal cases for illegal recruitment.

"We have many opportunities for our OFWs here. Opportunities that will help them move forward in life; and aside from giving a boost in our local economy, they will also have the chance to work while being with their families," said Baldoz.

Since July 20, the DFA has been implementing mandatory repatriation of Filipinos from Libya after crisis alert level 4 was raised there.

The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli has repatriated only 831 out of the 13,000 Filipinos from Libya. (HDT/Sunnex)

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