All Filipinos living in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon were ordered to return to the Philippines after the highest threat alert was raised in those countries amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, an official said on Wednesday.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told reporters that Alert Level 4 was raised over the three Middle Eastern countries. Mandatory repatriation is ordered under that alert level, which is issued when there is large-scale internal conflict or a full-blown external attack in the area.
"Most of the Filipinos in Iran are married to Iranians, so are they coming home or not? You cannot force them if they don't want to go home," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
Bello also said that they would not be able to do anything in case Filipinos refuse to cooperate in the mandatory repatriation. Still, he appealed to them to heed the government’s call for them to come home.
"We are not certain of their safety if this blows up," he said.
Bello assured that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will give financial aid to documented Filipino workers who will be repatriated from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. Undocumented Filipino workers will be brought home, but would not get financial aid, he said.
According to data from the DFA as of June 2019, there are 29,676 Filipinos in Lebanon — 11,972 of them are undocumented or irregular migrants. Meanwhile, there are 1,181 Filipinos in Iran, with 59 of them undocumented. The same data shows there are nearly 2.2 million Filipinos in the Middle East.
President Rodrigo Duterte during a command conference with defense officials in Malacañang Tuesday night ordered the deployment of at least a thousand troops from the Army and the Marines to the Middle East to assist in the repatriation of Filipinos from countries in the region.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made it clear that the troops there would not engage in combat with anyone.
"If they are ambushed, they'll just protect themselves," Lorenzana said.