The Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday said it is ready to respond to any contingency arising from the brewing tensions in the Middle East to ensure the safety of close to two million Filipinos working in the region.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assured the public the DFA is on top of the situation and that it is continuously monitoring developments in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“Of course, we are very much concerned with what is happening in the Middle East because whether we like it or not we would be affected by the outcome of developments taking place there,” Cayetano said.
“We would like to assure the public, however, that there is no need to be alarmed at this point but if the situation escalates, we can be expected to respond and lead our kababayans out of harm’s way,” he added.
Cayetano also expressed his concern over last week’s ballistic missile attack on Saudi Arabia, host to almost one million Filipino workers.
He said the attack, which targeted the heavily populated airport area in Riyadh, endangered the lives of many innocent civilians, including Filipinos.
The secretary said the DFA is closely watching the situation in Lebanon, host to almost 30,000 Filipino workers, after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates ordered their nationals to leave the country.
On Iraq, Cayetano said the DFA is monitoring the situation in the Kurdistan Region, host to 3,000 Filipino workers, after tensions between Baghdad and Erbil went up in the aftermath of an independence referendum in the region.
He said the DFA is closely monitoring the situation on the ground in close coordination with the Philippine embassies in Riyadh, Beirut and Baghdad.
“Contingency plans of the three foreign service posts have been updated, and that the DFA is ready to raise alert levels and issue an order for mandatory evacuation of the situation calls for it,” the department statement said.
Rapid response teams are also on standby ready to be deployed anytime to assist in any evacuation, the department said. One such team from the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad is now in Erbil, assisting in the repatriation of Filipinos who want to leave to escape the tensions in the Kurdistan region.
“The DFA had made representations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has again offered to assist in case there would be a need for mass evacuation,” the agency said.