DFA vows: OFWs from US, Nato bases in Afghanistan will be brought home safely


THE Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday assured overseas Filipino workers in US and NATO bases in Afghanistan that help is on the way to repatriate them from the war-torn country.

“We’re on this; we’re taking out our people with chartered flights; we’re sparing no expense,” tweeted Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.

“I am reaching out to our only military ally to watch our back,” he added.

Up to 2,000 Filipino contractors were deployed inside American and NATO military facilities at the start of 2021, but the numbers were gradually cut down after President Joe Biden decided to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan.

Some of the OFWs managed to return to the Philippines but scores have been stranded in Dubai for months now with the suspension of regular commercial passenger flights and with only repatriation flights being allowed.

The travel restrictions, first imposed on April 27 in a bid to stem the rise of Covid-19 cases fueled by new variants, have been extended several times and expanded to include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the UAE.

The DFA earlier announced that there are planned repatriation flights on August 22, 23 and 24, 2021.

There are at least 171 registered overseas Filipino workers in Afghanistan, but many of  the OFWs who left Afghanistan earlier are stranded in the UAE.

The Arab News, a Dubai publication, said the Filipino expatriate workers have to be evacuated “as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate with the quick advance of the Taliban towards the center of government.”

“The embassy staff in Pakistan [which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan] have started to draw up a manifest of those who want to be repatriated after we gave the contact details of all Filipino workers here,” Joseph Glenn Gumpal, president of Samahang Pilipino sa Afghanistan, the Filipino expatriate community in Afghanistan, told Arab News.

“They [embassy staff] have asked the national government for funds [to cover the cost of repatriation]. Eight embassy staff have been assigned to contact OFWs in their respective companies for scheduling [of flights],” Gumpal said.

Meanwhile, some workers already have flight tickets booked by their employers, while others are awaiting guidance from their companies.

Embassy officials opted for a repatriation flight to Manila via Istanbul in Turkey, skirting the traditional go-to hub of Dubai, as the Philippines has extended the ban on travelers from the UAE and nine other countries until end-August while scrambling to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

However, some Filipino workers have decided against joining evacuation flights, and instead opted to rely on their employers’ commitment they would be repatriated in cases of emergency.

“Their employers have their own contingency plans for their own personnel, and I hope they implement those plans,” Gumpal said.

“We hope the government repatriate them soonest. They are running out of funds, so some are even thinking of going back to Afghanistan instead,” Gumpal said, referring to those stranded in Dubai. Others are staying in neutral areas such as Armenia until the security situation in Afghanistan improves.

Taliban insurgents have very swiftly captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan, taking control of major cities such as Kandahar and Herat less than three weeks before the US completes its pullout from the country after 20 years.

Foreign news organizations reported that Taliban fighters entered the outskirts of the Afghan capital on Sunday and said they were awaiting a “peaceful transfer” of the city after promising not to take it by force.

“But the uncertainty panicked workers who fled government offices as helicopters landed at the US Embassy,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Three Afghan officials told AP that the Taliban were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital.

In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has sent Afghan security forces fleeing from huge areas, sparking concern over what happened to all the years of security training under US forces.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Qatar’s Al-Jazeera English satellite news channel that the insurgents are “awaiting a peaceful transfer of Kabul city.” He declined to offer specifics on any possible negotiations between his forces and the government.

Acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan sought to reassure the public in a video message.

“Authority has been given to a delegation that will be going to Doha (Qatar) tomorrow to reach an agreement on Afghanistan,” he said. “I assure you about the security of Kabul.”

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