Monday, January 31, 2011

No evacuation of Filipinos yet from Egypt

There is no evacuation yet of Filipinos in violence-stricken Egypt, although the government is increasing its emergency funds just in case the need comes, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said while they have yet to raise the situation to alert level 3, which involves the evacuation of Filipinos to neighboring countries, Philippine embassies in the nearby Arab states have been instructed to make the necessary preparations.

"Contingency plans for one country are always coordinated with another country (because) we might have to move our nationals to neighboring countries, where we will pick them up and bring them home," Conejos said at a press conference.

Neighboring countries where Filipinos in Egypt may be evacuated include Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Conejos said.

Several other countries, such as the United States, Japan, Turkey, India and Iraq, have reportedly started providing chartered flights to move their citizens out of Egypt. 

According to Conejos, ensuring the safety of some 6,000 Filipinos in Egypt comes first before moving them out of the troubled African nation. 

The government, however, is not keen on issuing an official position on whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should step down, as demanded by protesters pouring into Cairo's streets by the thousands. 

"We are not focusing on the political aspect of this," said DFA Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis at the same press conference, stressing that they are more concerned about the safety of the Filipinos there. 

He said at present, there are no reports of violence directed against foreign nationals, as demonstrations are aimed primarily at toppling the Mubarak regime.

In an earlier statement, the DFA said the government is only calling on all parties in Egypt to maintain calm and exercise restraint, and that it is hoping that the level of violence there will not escalate. 

Emergency fund

As this developed, Conejos announced at least P100 million have been allotted as emergency funds should the need for evacuation arises. 

The DFA earlier allotted a standby emergency fund of P25 million. 

Conejos said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are likewise setting aside a total of P25 million for the country's contingency plans. 

This is apart from the P100-million Emergency Repatriation Fund set aside for such purposes as mandated by the law, according to Conejos. 

DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Special Assistant Enrico Fos is leaving for Egypt Monday to assist the Philippine Embassy there in implementing contingency measures. 

Consul General Ezzedin Tago will also proceed to Cairo from his current post in Riyadh, while Special Envoy Roy Cimatu, currently in Afghanistan to assess the situation of Filipino workers there, will also be sent to Egypt, according to the DFA.

Of the over 6,000 Filipinos currently in Egypt, about 3,000 are working as domestic helpers; 1,800 are Muslim scholars, while about 1,000 are permanent residents married to Egyptian nationals. 

Meanwhile, Philippine Charge d'Affaires in Egypt Eduardo Pablo Maglaya reported that the current situation there has not changed, and there is no imminent danger to the lives of Filipinos there. 

The Embassy earlier set up a hotline which Filipinos there can call should they want to be moved out, while the DFA said Filipinos who have relatives in Egypt may call its 24-hour hotline number 834-4580 for inquiries about their relatives. 

The Embassy likewise reiterated its advice to the Filipino community to stay indoors, steer clear of public places especially where mass protests are happening, and avoid involvement in political actions. 

The DFA also issued a travel advisory earlier urging Filipinos to defer non-essential and non-urgent trips to Egypt, particularly for tourism purposes, until the security situation there has stabilized. - KBK, GMANews.TV

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