11,000 Pinoys opt to take chance of surviving the war rather than return home jobless
(By Leslie Ann G. Aquino, AFP and AP | 5 Aug 2014)
FLEEING LIBYA – A group of Egyptians prepare to board a bus at the border crossing of Ras Jdir to take them to the Jerba airport in Tunisia.
The Egyptians are among several nationalities fleeing Libya after chaos broke out threatening the safety of both Libyans and foreign
nationals. Hundreds of Filipinos are among those affected by the unrest and many have been repatriated home.
Related story on Page 7 (EPA)
Notwithstanding the growing unrest in Libya, described by fleeing residents as “much worse” than the crisis that toppled its dictator Moammar Khadafy in 2011, more than 11,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) would rather risk the danger in that conflict-torn country rather than face uncertainty of having no job at home.
“We are hearing that a lot of them would rather take the chance of surviving the war rather than (risking) the uncertainty of not having work here,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said.
He added that while some might be willing to risk the danger, others, especially those working in the medical field, might be under pressure to stay.
With the predicament of OFWs, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the Public Affairs Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), called on the government to provide permanent jobs if it wants Filipinos in Libya to return home. He issued the call after learning that only 1,700 of the 13,000 OFWs in Libya have expressed a desire to leave for fear of losing their jobs and uncertainty that face them in the Philippines.
“They refuse to go back because they know nothing is waiting for them here,” Pabillo said.
Likewise, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the OFWs expressed fear of losing their jobs in the conflict-torn country should they leave.
But while Pabillo would rather that the OFWs in Libya return to the country for their safety, he said, he also understands why some opt to stay and risk their lives in the conflict-torn African country.
“We advise them to go back here where they are safe, but we also know that no matter how much we plead with them they won’t do it because of the situation here in the Philippines,” Pabillo said.
“Did the situation in the country improve? What kind of work will we offer them?” Pabillo said.
“Maybe they are thinking that if they stay at least they are only unsure of their safety whereas if they go back here, they are sure not to be free from poverty. Their families will surely suffer,” he added.
WORSE THAN UNDER KHADAFY
Libya is descending into a civil war spiral that is “much worse” than the unrest that toppled Khadafy in 2011, residents fleeing the country said Saturday.
“Chaos reigns. There is no government. We have no food, no fuel, no water, no electricity for hours on end,” lamented fleeing residents.
“We have gone through (war) before, with Khadafy, but now it’s much worse,” Paraskevi Athineou, a Greek woman living in Libya, told AFP.
Del Rosario said only 1,700 Filipinos have signed up to be repatriated from the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata as well as the capital, Tripoli, after the government called for the mandatory evacuations from the North African nation.
Only 200 were at the Philippine embassy in Tripoli as the government prepares to send a chartered ship to ferry them out, Jose said.
Del Rosario said the government has chartered a ship to transport the Filipinos this week from Libya to Malta, where flights will be arranged to take them home.
About 160 Filipinos have escaped by land to Tunisia, including 50 workers who were briefly stranded when the border crossing was shut by authorities Friday night due to violence that erupted amid the rush to escape from Libya, Del Rosario said.
“I’m not sure that we can even get 50 percent to come home,” Del Rosario told The Associated Press after arriving in Manila from Tunisia, where he helped arranged the evacuations of Filipinos in Libya. “They’re so scared, but their concerns are their jobs.”
Filipino nurses are especially apprehensive about leaving because employers have enticed them to stay with additional pay and they are committed to their hospital work, Del Rosario said.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE AT HOME
Earlier, a DFA official said thousands of OFWs refuse to leave strife-torn Libya for fear that they would be jobless at home.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), meantime, expressed readiness in addressing the welfare, employment, livelihood, and legal needs of OFW repatriates through its Assist WELL Program, a component of the National Reintegration Program for OFWs.
The call for the OFWs and their dependent to leave Libya heightened after a Filipino construction worker was beheaded a few weeks ago and a nurse was abducted and gang-raped amid the escalating violence.
President Aquino deployed Del Rosario to Tunisia with an order for him to make sure “no one gets left behind,” Del Rosario said, but he added that many simply refused to leave despite the danger.
“I was told that if some of them go out of their houses, they get divested of their money and cellphones,” he said. “That’s what is scary. Nobody seems to be in charge. There are no evident police forces so if you get in trouble, you’re on your own.”
Welder Marlon Lerio, who worked in Misrata, said he was frightened by people firing warning shots as buses evacuated him and other Filipinos out of Libya.
But he also described how he and many others had paid hefty ‘’placement fees’’ to recruitment agencies so they could find a job abroad.
“We paid a lot to our agency and now, we have no assurance we can get our placement fee back. I was contracted to work there for two years but I only worked two and a half months,” he said.
“I had to take loans just to get to Libya. It cost about P100,000,” he told AFP, adding he did not know how he would make the money back.