Securing jobs abroad hinders OFWs from repatriating amid tensions in Middle East

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 9) — Despite the threat in the Middle East given the tension between the United States and Iran, some Filipinos still choose to stay overseas thinking of their family’s future.

Dahil sa trabaho at meron po akong kontrata,” Sophia, a Filipino consultant working in Iraq, said to explain why she cannot return to the country.

[Translation: It’s because of work and I still have a contract.]

Sophia admitted that it was hard for her to tell her family of her decision but assured that she could manage herself.

Mahirap, pero sinabi ko sa kanila na I can take care of myself and I have a company to take care of me also,” she added.

[Translation: It’s difficult, but I told them that I can take care of myself and I have a company to take care of me also.]

Sophia is just one of the 2,191 overseas Filipino workers in Iraq according to the Department of Labor and Employment. But she is not part of the 1,600 who expressed intent to return to the Philippines due to safety concerns.

READ: 1,600 Filipinos eyeing to fly home from Iraq amid tensions – Cimatu

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization which caters to the needs of OFWs and their families, believes that it won’t be easy to convince Filipinos in the Middle East to return home.

“The reality is that people go to where the jobs are. When they are paid well, lifeline na 'yan ng pamilya nila. So it’s not that easy na sabihin mo na, ‘Delikado diyan. Umuwi ka.’ Kasi ang first and foremost nga, ‘paano yung edukasyon ng anak ko?’ ‘Paano yung bahay na pinapatayo namin?’,” the organization’s president Susan Ople told On The Record.

[Translation: The reality is that people go to where the jobs are. When they are paid well, it’s already a lifeline of their families. So it’s not easy to tell them, ‘It’s dangerous there. Please go home.’ Because first and foremost, they would think, ‘What would happen to my child’s education?’, ‘How about the house we are building?’.]

Tensions remain high in Iraq after the US killed a top Iranian general last week and Iran struck back by launching strikes on Iraqi bases housing US troops. But there are signals of possible a deescalation of tensions, with US President Donald Trump responding to Iran's attacks by promising more sanctions.

President Rodrigo Duterte during a command conference with defense officials on Tuesday 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.

Ople noted that there won’t be an ‘easy fix’ in convincing OFWs to comeback home.

“This won’t be an easy fix. Let’s not also pretend na kapag nagpadala ka dun ng mga ilang sundalo, pagbalik dito, hakot na lahat,” she said. “In face-to-face negotiation with employers, they would still have to rely on the embassy, DOLE, and DFA staff.”

[Translation: This won’t be an easy fix. Let’s not also pretend that sending troops out there would mean the return of all Filipinos there, she said. In face-to-face negotiation with employers, they would still have to rely on the embassy, DOLE, and DFA staff.]

New jobs

House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs chairperson Rep. Raymond Mendoza said that returning Filipinos should be assured of a new job.

“I think the contingency there is to re-deploy. Kung ibalik mo sila dito, what are they going to do here? […] According to the task force [meeting] yesterday, other countries are opening up [jobs], for example: Canada, Russia, China,” said Mendoza.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Wednesday that his agency is in talks with China, Japan, Russia, Canada and Germany for the redeployment of Filipino workers.

Ople agreed with the need to find alternative jobs for repatriated Filipinos.

“So sa tingin ko, palakasin ng gobyerno natin yung integration program. Ano ba ang alternatives kapag bumalik sila dito?,” she said.

[Translation: So I think, the government should strengthen its integration program. What are the alternatives once they return here?]

She also suggested that private companies could also help in providing new livelihood to OFWs.

At hindi yan kaya ng gobyerno alone. Ang raming companies na nakikinabang sa remittances ng OFWs, baka ngayon sila dapat tumulong at kung may vacancies sila, baka pwede nilang i-absorb yung mga ibang uuwi.”

[Translation: This cannot be done by the government alone. There are lots of companies benefiting from the remittances of OFWs. I hope they consider to help them, and if they have any vacancies, they could probably absorb some of them.]

The government earlier also ordered the mandatory repatriation of OFWs from Lebanon and Iran but has since called that off, with Bello citing the reduction in alert level status in those countries.

READ: Gov’t calls off mandatory repatriation of Filipinos from Iran, Lebanon

Filipinos in Iraq may contact the embassy at 0781 606 6822 and 0751 616 7838. They may also contact the embassy via email through [email protected] or [email protected], or through its Facebook page, Philippine Embassy in Iraq. They may also contact DOLE at (0632)1349 and OWWA at (0632)1348.