Race vs time: DFA plucks 32 OFWs from Afghanistan


AN initial batch of 32 Filipinos in Afghanistan were evacuated Sunday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported, and added that all efforts are being taken to work out the safe repatriation of over a hundred more who remain in the country overrun by the Taliban.

The 32 Filipinos who left Kabul on Sunday are now in Doha awaiting their confirmed flights to the Philippines.

However, 19 other overseas Filipino workers (OFW) were not able to leave even as CNN said “all commercial flights  out of Kabul’s main airport have been canceled.”

The DFA ordered the evacuation of around 130 Filipinos in Afghanistan, after its government collapsed and Taliban forces took hold of the capital Kabul.

Over the past several months, several hundred Filipinos who had worked as contractors inside American and Nato outposts in Afghanistan had been moved out in phases, after the US announced a withdrawal in April. Some of these OFWs have been stranded in Dubai, owing to new travel restrictions caused by a surge in Covid-19 cases in countries around the globe.

News coming of Kabul on Monday said the American military had taken over the Kabul Airport and had given priority to American Embassy officials and personnel to board military flights out of the beleaguered country.

Chinook helicopters have been seen flying over the city, ferrying escaping American embassy personnel and bringing them to the airport.

Many Afghan citizens tried to escape and rush over to the Kabul Airport  to join any commercial flights, but were prevented by heavily armed American troopers. The airport perimeter was lined with razor wires.

“Overnight, the focus was Kabul airport, where hundreds of desperate Afghans seeking to flee the country were waiting for flights, some dragging luggage across runways in the dark,” one news report said.

There were reports of sporadic explosions within the airport compound.

The DFA recently issued Alert Level 4 for the whole of Afghanistan due to the uncertain security situation in the country.

“The Department and its Foreign Service Posts in the region and beyond are exploring all avenues of cooperation and are closely coordinating with governments and international partners to guarantee their immediate and safe passage,” the DFA said in a statement on Monday.

The DFA said the migrant Filipino workers in Kabul “are professionals working for various international companies in the country.”

The Philippine embassy in Pakistan, which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, will oversee the repatriation of Filipinos in the area. It urged any Filipino in distress to reach the embassy through the following details:

Whatsapp/Viber: +923335244762

Messenger/Facebook at the following: https://www.facebook.com/atnofficers.islamabadpe or http://facebook.com/OFWHelpPH

Email: [email protected]

After rapidly taking towns and cities across Afghanistan in just days, Taliban forces captured Kabul on Sunday, and Western-backed President Ashraf Ghani fled the country to Tajikistan as the presidential palace was seized.

Other Filipinos who left Afghanistan about a month ago and stopped over in Dubai where they remain stuck were recruits of Fluor, an engineering and construction company. Those working on US and Nato bases are not counted as members of the Samahang Pilipino sa Afghanistan (SPA).

OFW advocate and recruitment industry veteran Manny S. Geslani said one problem is time. The workers’ evacuation had been tentatively set within the next two weeks. The Taliban, however, overran city after city until their fighters reached Kabul, where most of the workers have gathered for better security.

Geslani said some workers were still undecided about taking the flight, apparently weighing between their chances of evacuation in a government plane and that of their company.

Many OFWs want to stick it out with their employer to boost their chances of getting a good job again when the situation simmers down, Geslani explained.

The tentative plan calls for the government plane to take off from Kabul with a stopover in Istanbul, which was chosen because Dubai, the logical stop, remains closed to travelers from Afghanistan, among other countries hit by pandemic surges.

Geslani said the 130 OFWs still in Kabul are in the heavily fortified Green Zone “and are facing the worst crisis in their more than 14 years stay in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the Taliban has taken over major government facilities of the former President Ashraf Ghani administration.”

He said the OFWs who have signified their desire to join the repatriation flight being  organized by the Philippine Embassy in Pakistan are afraid that the scheduled flight on August 24 on Turkish Airways might not push through as Kabul Airport operations have been suspended for the next 72 hours.

US and Nato troops are guarding the airbase and have been tasked by US President Joe Biden to safeguard the evacuation of all those at the airport who want to leave Afghanistan.

The Philippine Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has confirmed with the OFWs in Afghanistan represented by Samahang Pilipino sa Afghanistan (SPA) that the home office has approved a repatriation flight for all OFWs still in Afghanistan by the end of August.

Geslani, quoting SPA President Glenn Gumpal said the situation remains fluid in Kabul, “but OFWs with the 27 companies are now ready to leave.”

“However 11 of these companies are still waiting for higher management decision if repatriation of the OFWs to Dubai will be undertaken in the last few weeks while pullout of US troops continues until August 31, 2021.”

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