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DFA raises Libya alert to Level 4, as more OFWs get trapped in conflict.

THE Department of Foreign Affairs has ordered the mandatory evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) based within 100 kilometers of the Libyan capital Tripoli by raising Alert Level 4, the highest and most urgent level of awareness issued in a conflict area.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., announced this on Twitter, saying he has informed President Duterte of his decision.

In Manila, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the Department of Labor and Employment is ready to do its part in the repatriation of more OFWs, who in the past weeks have been reluctant to leave their work places in the violence-wracked North African country.

'Yesterday [I] informed [the] President that I raised the Alert Level [AL] to 4 in Tripoli + 100 kms around. More mortar fire, more Filipinos hurt,' Locsin said on Twitter.

'AL 4 is mandatory evacuation but we cannot compel-and rightly so. What is mandatory is that DFA stays in Tripoli until last OFW goes-and then it stays.'

The DFA elaborated on Locsin's directive, saying Alert Level 3 was raised to AL 4 'due to increased threats to the safety and security of the more than 1,000 Filipinos who are still there.'

'Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. raised the alert level upon the recommendation of the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli which said the current situation on the ground could no longer guarantee the safety and security of Filipinos who chose to remain despite repeated appeals for them to go home.'

Charge d'Affaires Elmer G. Cato said that with the declaration of Alert Level 4, the embassy will redouble its efforts in persuading Filipinos to go home.

The DFA said the AL 4 'was raised after a number of Filipinos suddenly found themselves in the middle of fierce fighting on Monday. It also followed the shelling of several hospitals and residential areas that left at least two Filipinos wounded.'

Locsin appealed to Filipinos still in Tripoli to seriously consider repatriation before the situation escalates further. He also requested the help of families in the Philippines in persuading their loved ones in Tripoli to accept the repatriation offer before it's too late.

Locsin and head of mission to Libya, Cato, had earlier announced that despite their plea for migrant Filipinos to leave the war zone, many have opted to stay where they work, or otherwise stay there to help Libyan friends endangered by the fighting.

Cato tweeted that the mission's ability to respond to emergencies becomes limited as the fighting closes in on them in Tripoli.

'As the fighting gets closer to us, the ability of @ PhnLibya to respond to calls for assistance by Filipinos in distress becomes more difficult or even impossible to carry out. That's why this early we ask our kababayan to let us help lead them out of harm's way,' Cato tweeted.

He added that 13 Filipino carpet-factory workers displaced by the fighting in Tripoli were repatriated by their employer via Misrata on Monday.

'This brings to 32 the number of Filipinos repatriated from Tripoli since fighting began on April 4,'he said.

According to Cato, there is an ongoing house-to-house fighting in the outskirts of Tripoli.

'It's house-to-house in the outskirts of Tripoli and not in capital proper itself. Fighting taking place in areas where some Filipinos are located,' he said, adding that the mission has 'already encountered undocumented household workers.'

News accounts from Tripoli said plumes of smoke were seen rising from the plain south of Libya's capital as troops loyal to the UN-recognized government battle to fend off an assault on Tripoli.

The plumes of smoke appear to rise over the airport, which was heavily damaged in 2014 clashes and since then has not been used.

However, news accounts said the airport remains a strategic site in the battle for control of the capital.

Men loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) have been trying to take ground from forces of commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive on Tripoli on April 4.

A coalition of Tripoli militias and armed groups from western towns have, since April 20, been slowly repelling Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army.

DOLE's mandate

In an interview in Manila, DOLE chief Bello said they are now preparing to bring home more OFWs from Libya.

'If it is a mandatory repat [repatriation], then we would have to bring OFWs there home,' Bello said at the sidelines of the Labor Day celebration of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Pampanga.

Bello earlier deployed a six-man augmentation team in Tunisia located in the northwest of Libya to help in repatriation efforts there.

As of Wednesday, he said the government has only facilitated the repatriation of 38 of the estimated 2,600 remaining OFWs in Libya.

He earlier attributed the low number of repatriation takers to the OFWs' hesitation in Libya to leave their work.

Most of the OFWs there are medical workers and engineers.

DFA said it will not compel OFWs in the identified danger zone to leave Libya against their will despite the mandatory repatriation phase there.

In terms of deployment of OFWs in Libya, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard P. Olalia said they will await a recommendation from DFA on whether there is a need to expand their existing deployment ban in Libya.

POEA's deployment ban in Libya only covers areas stipulated by DFA.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:6LIBY
Date:May 2, 2019
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