The perils in leaving Libya

Susan V. Ople

By : Susan V. Ople

Around 12,000 Filipinos remain trapped in Libya, working for an economy in shambles with looming power and water shortages as bombs fall and looting continue. News about the beheading of a construction worker and rape of a Filipino nurse drove home the message: Leave Libya now.

For the Philippine government, it is a race against time as borders shut down and travel by land, ship, and air becomes more perilous. Veteran foreign affairs and labor officials have been assigned to help out, with rapid response teams trying their best to get as many Filipino workers out of Libya as they can.

No less than Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario flew to Tunisia where he checked on the conditions of Filipinos who managed to cross the border into Djerba.

Labor Attache Nasser Mustafa is in Misrata, handling the repatriation efforts in time for the arrival of a ship charted by the Philippines from Malta that would take those in Misrata and Bengazi out of Libya into Malta where a chartered plane is on standby to bring them home to Manila.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis has just entered Libya with his own team and is doing his best to communicate with compatriots in far-flung areas who wish to cross the border safely.

The Philippine Embassy continues to operate albeit with a skeletal staff led by Charge d’ Affaires Adelio Cruz. They facilitate the exit of workers from Tripoli to Tunisia. – Susan V. Ople

These career officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment alongside with the other members of their respective teams should be commended for putting their lives on the line to save our countrymen, not only in Libya but also in Syria and Iraq. While the media continues to shine the spotlight on the workers who have been arriving in succession in Manila, very few have noted the heroism of those in the frontline, that have made such homecomings possible.

Filipino workers in Libya should come home, but not all are, for a variety of reasons. It is unfair to make a sweeping statement that they prefer to be stuck in war-torn Libya because of higher pay. Those that I have spoken to through social media said that they are afraid to venture out and travel long distances to seek the embassy’s help. Some companies prevail upon their foreign staff to stay, despite delays in pay and benefits.

Bruce Grajera, a long-time employee in a major power plant, said he could not simply pack up and leave knowing that none of his Libyan co-workers have the training and expertise to do his job. The power plant is home to around 500 Filipinos that help operate and maintain Libya’s main source of electric power.

In any crisis, tough decisions have to be made. Some professionals like Bruce have a deep sense of obligation to Libya, making it difficult for them to leave due to professional reasons. Workers who wish to leave rely on the embassy for instructions and the Philippine government for the means to fly back home.

For those coming home, the government has worked out a currency exchange system allowing Libyan dinars to be converted into pesos; and a first-time outright grant of ten thousand pesos as financial assistance. Outside this equation is the value of precious life saved through rescue and repatriation efforts, by bureaucrats-turned-crisis managers. The perils in leaving Libya only heighten the heroism of those who have entered it to save the lives of others.



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