1st batch of Filipinos from Iraq to be flown to Qatar Monday night

MANILA, Philippines – The first batch of Filipinos evacuating from Iraq is set to travel to Qatar on Monday night, January 13, from where they will board a commercial flight back to Manila, the Department of National Defense (DND) said on Monday, January 13.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at least 12 Filipinos were to be brought from Baghdad, Iraq to Doha, Qatar, where they will board a Qatar Airways flight to Manila.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, earlier appointed as special envoy to the Middle East, said the first batch of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were currently waitlisted for a Qatar Airways flight leaving on Tuesday, January 14. If they will be accommodated, the OFWs will arrive in Manila at about 4:10 pm on the same day.

In a statement to reporters, the DND said more OFWs in Iraq, Libya, and other Middle East hotspots have requested to return home and that respective Philippine embassies and consulates were processing their exit clearances.

The first batch of OFWs repatriated from conflict-threatened Iraq were supposed to return home Sunday, January 12, though heavy ashfall from eruption of the Tall volcano suspended all flights in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport the same day. 

The DND gave assurances that Cimatu, along with other Philippine officials in Doha, "were exploring all possible routes of repatriation by commercial airlines from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq to Doha, Qatar and then to Manila."

Other measures: Apart from this, the DND announced that Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Administrator Hans Cacdac was scheduled to leave for Saudi Arabia on Monday to assist repatriation efforts in the Gulf State.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the DND added, was ready to send planes and ships to transport Filipinos out of the Middle East "at a moment's notice." It was in close coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs, which will secure diplomatic clearances for these defense assets to arrive in the region.

The United States' targeted killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani last January 3, sparked heightened tension with Iran, which retaliated by striking on January 8, two bases in Iraq housing US troops.

Though both countries have backed down from further attacks, the Philippine government continued to urge OFWs to return home as the situation in the region remained volatile. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.