Manila under fire over Libya evacuation | Asia Pacific

Manila under fire over Libya evacuation

Manila under fire over Libya evacuation

Updated 1 August 2014, 12:58 AEST

Governments from around the world are scrambling to evacuate their citizens from Libya after an upsurge of violence among rival militias.

It's the worst violence since the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi three years ago.

The Philippines has the largest number of people still in Libya, and its foreign minister has gone to neighbouring Tunisia to oversee the evacuation of around 13,000 Filipinos.

The mission has been given added urgency by the killing of a Filipino construction worker, and the rape of a Filipina nurse in Tripoli.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Philippine Congressman Walden Bello, chair of the House of Representatives committee on overseas workers affairs.

BELLO: Well yes, I think that's fair to say, but I think that the situation was also partly the responsibility of our Department of Foreign Affairs and this is what really has upset most of us, because this could have been an avoidable problem.
LAM: Really, in what way avoidable?
BELLO: Well because, as you know, Filipino workers were evacuated in 2011 during the crisis there between the the NATO-backed forces and the Gaddafi regime.  But the situation was that the deployment ban was lifted in late 2011, 2012 and 2013, despite the fact that the situation was deteriorating. The central government was losing control and rival militias were beginning to carve out territories. And despite this, the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Philippines allowed the redeployment of thousands of workers, numbering now about 12,000 and what many of us could not understand is that the indication that things were worsening, like the killing of the United States ambassador in 2012, were not apparently taken seriously by our post, by our diplomatic post in Libya.  As a result of this, more and more workers were deployed and now that things have really deteriorated, we have about 12,000, 13,000 workers trapped in Libya at this point. So this is quite, this is my sense, this is partly the making of the Department of Foreign Affairs. We could have avoided this problem by not...
LAM: And yet, we've received reports that many of the Philippine workers, the Philippine nations are reluctant to leave, because there are no jobs waiting for them back in the Philippines?
BELLO:  That's probably true that there are workers that feel that way,  to a certain degree. I mean and it's up to them to leave. I mean the government cannot coerce them to leave. But all I'm trying to say is that the redeployment of workers to Libya that occurred in 2012 and 2013, should not have been allowed to happen for their own good, for their own good of the Philippine  workers. Now we're paying the price for not having reinstated or keeping the deployment ban there.
LAM: We received reports. Sorry, to interrupt, but we received reports like China and Greece and some other countries have evacuated their workers far earlier. Do you think the fact that the Philippines has left it so late, that there was some failure in intelligence on Manila's part?
BELLO: I would think so. What I'm trying to say is that this intelligence, this an intelligence failure and it extends way back to 2011 and 2012, even as militias were taking over the country, thousands of Filipino workers went back with the backing of the government. So this is really what emerged in our hearings last week, last Wednesday, and this is why I say that the government of the Philippines is partly responsible for this crisis now in which many of our workers are kept there.
LAM: And just briefly Congressman Walden Bello. For the Philippine workers who do decide to stay behind, what is your advice to them. For example, is the mission, the Philippine mission in Tripoli still open?
BELLO: Well,  the Philippine mission there is open and the embassy is open, but the  problem is the ability of our government officials to reach Filipinos in  two areas in particular, it's very limited at this point, because precisely of rival militias' control.


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