- Title: PHILIPPINES: Filipino evacuees from Libya face an uncertain future
- Date: 14th March 2011
- Summary: MANILA, PHILIPPINES (MARCH 10, 2011) (REUTERS) FILIPINO WORKERS WAVING AS THEY WALK INTO AIRPORT ARRIVAL HALL WORKERS WALKING THROUGH DOOR WORKERS WAVING WORKERS SEATED AND CLAPPING THEIR HANDS WORKERS STANDING ON SIDEWALK OUTSIDE AIRPORT WORKERS CARRYING THEIR BAGS OUTSIDE BUS (SOUNDBITE) (Filipino) FOREMAN IN OIL COMPANY, ABRONO JUANITAS, SAYING: "Right now it really is a problem. We don't know what will happen to us without jobs. If we had savings, we'd be okay." ABRONO JUANITAS BOARDING BUS VARIOUS OF WORKERS WITH THEIR LUGGAGE OUTSIDE OVERSEAS WORKERS WELFARE ADMINISTRATION (OWWA) SATELLITE OFFICE BANNER READING: "OPERATION LIBYA" INSIDE HALL WHERE ASSISTANCE IS BEING PROCESSED VARIOUS OF 62-YEAR OLD WORKER FROM LIBYA, RAFAEL VALDEZ, GETTING INFORMATION ON ASSISTANCE WORKERS FILLING UP FORMS FOR ASSISTANCE VALDEZ LISTENING TO OWWA STAFF (SOUNDBITE) (Filipino) WORKER FROM DRILLING COMPANY, RAFAEL VALDEZ, SAYING: "We're appealing to the government to help us -- people such as myself. I am old. There's nothing more for me. And I'm still sending grandchildren to school." OWWA STAFF LOOKING AT WORKER'S PASSPORT CASH ASSISTANCE ON TABLE CASH ON TABLE VALDEZ RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE VALDEZ COUNTING MONEY OWWA PERSONNEL DOING PAPER WORK FEMALE WORKERS SEATED MALE WORKERS SEATED
- Embargoed: 29th March 2011 13:00
- Location: Philippines, Philippines
- Country: Philippines
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVA8ZCA7ANE1AP82ZFPVKIO2VKMB
- Story Text: Relief is coupled with anxiety as Filipinos evacuated from Libya return home, only to face a bleak job environment.
Thousands of Filipino workers have fled the fighting between anti-government rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi since February.
Abrono Juanitas, a foreman in an oil company, is one of them.
"Right now it really is a problem. We don't know what will happen to us without jobs. If we had savings, we'd be okay," said Juanitas, who worked in an oil firm for 29 years.
Like Juanitas, many of the returnees had been employed in Libya for decades -- and they say life was good in the oil-rich country. They worked in high-paying jobs and enjoyed a low cost of living. Many were even looking forward to generous pensions after retirement.
Before the revolt, about 26,000 Filipinos were working in Libya, mostly in medical, construction, and oil and gas sectors.
Around 10 million Filipinos, or one-tenth of the Philippines' population, live and work overseas due to lack of opportunities and low pay domestically. They sent home US$19 billion last year, crucial support for the $190 billion economy.
Rafael Valdez spent 26 years in Libya, working for a drilling company. He was earning the equivalent of 1,000 U.S. dollars a month and was able to send his three children to school.
As a senior citizen -- at 62 years old -- he faces bleak job prospects in the Philippines and says there is simply no job that will pay the same salary.
"We're appealing to the government to help us - people such as myself, I am old. There's nothing more for me. And I'm still sending grandchildren to school," Valdez said.
The government has launched a cash assistance programme that doles out 10,000 pesos (230 U.S. dollars) to each returnee. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is giving free transport, food and lodging to help tide them over. They will also provide training seminars for those interested in setting up small businesses.
"We are lining up a jobs fair specifically and especially for workers coming from Libya, to facilitate their access to job opportunities not only locally but also abroad," deputy administrator of OWWA Josefino Torres said.
The Philippines government has struggled with limited resources to evacuate the workers, primarily relying on the employers to get them out. Planes and ships were chartered later, and nearly 14,000 Filipinos have been evacuated as of March 11.
The returnees say they went through traumatic moments, squeezing into container trucks and passing dozens of checkpoints manned either by the military or anti-government rebels.
"What we went through was really difficult. Our SIM cards were taken, we were told to get down from the vehicles and they fired shots beside us - machine guns and AK-47s. That's why some of the Filipinos were traumatised," said auto-electrician Arnold Gacer.
Some nurses said they had to escape from their employers, who held their passports to prevent them from leaving.
They say hospitals rely heavily on foreign nurses for highly-specialised duties, and their departure left operations severely crippled.
Jennifer Dumelod worked in a heart centre in Tripoli as a nurse in the intensive care unit. She said delicate surgeries were stopped and non-emergency patients were sent home when dozens of staff left.
"Filipinos are known to be skilful and all. That's why they hire a lot of Filipinos. So perhaps their health care system will really be crippled," said 24-year-old Dumelod.
Nurses in Libya can earn the equivalent of 700-1,200 U.S. dollars a month, a far cry from Philippines wage of 200 USD a month.
The workers said last month's salaries were suspended amid the chaos, and many of them only managed to bring home leftover Libyan dinars.
The Philippine Central Bank has opened a special exchange for the Libyan currency, up to a limit of 10,000 pesos (230 U.S. dollars).
The Filipino workers recall Libya with much regret. It was a country of opportunities, they say, just on the cusp of development where foreigners played a big role.
The skilled professionals are looking to work there again.
"Well if there is a chance to return to Libya, I will go back because we had a good life there. It just so happened that this situation is going on," civil engineer Conrado Sansad said.
Tens of thousands more Filipinos working in Bahrain, Yemen and across the Middle East have been warned of danger, as waves of anti-government protests grip the region.
As Libya seems set for continued civil unrest, the collateral damage extends far beyond its borders.
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