Philippines prepares to evacuate its workers in Iraq and Iran

MANILA: The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, ordered the military to prepare to deploy their airplanes and ships `` at any time '' to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran in case violence broke out, It reflects the growing fears of Asia for its citizens in the growing volatile Middle East.

Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate workers may face similar decisions amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran after last week's air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad .

South Korean government ministries have discussed strengthening protections for almost 1,900 South Koreans in Iraq and Iran. The spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, Raveesh Kumar, said that India did not plan to evacuate any citizen from the volatile region `` yet. ''

Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defense secretary and senior military and police officials on Sunday to discuss evacuation plans.

`` President Duterte ordered the Philippine Armed Forces to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any time, '' said Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally . of Duterte, who was at the meeting.

Duterte expressed fears on Monday that the Philippines has to carry out mass evacuations if violence hits Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia that house large numbers of Filipino workers.

`` I am nervous. Iran seems to be engaged in retaliation, which I believe will come. It's a matter of time ... the cry for blood is there, '' Duterte said in a speech. He urged Congress to hold a special session on the impact of a possible crisis in the Middle East and reserve contingency funds.

Iran promised to retaliate and President Donald Trump warned that US forces would attack 52 Iranian targets if the Americans were attacked. The Parliament of Iraq has also called for the expulsion of all US troops from Iraqi soil, which could revive the Islamic State group in Iraq, making the Middle East a much more dangerous and unstable place.

Aggravating contingency plans are the uncertainty in which hostilities could possibly be unleashed.

The chief of military cabinet, Lieutenant General Felimon Santos Jr., said that Philippine forces have identified possible evacuation routes not only in Iraq and Iran, but also at other critical points, such as Israel .

`` There are odds like that and we are improving our plans just to cover everything in case something happens, '' Santos told reporters in Manila.

Other countries face similar dilemmas. Asians represent 40 percent of the world's migrants, and Middle Eastern countries are a common destination. African migrants are also employed throughout the Middle East, although the possibility of their countries of origin organizing evacuations is uncertain.

The Arab states of the Gulf are home to more than 7 million Indian expatriates who help boost the region's economy and keep their cities full of doctors, engineers, teachers, drivers, construction workers and other workers. In the United Arab Emirates, Indians outnumber Emiratis by three to one.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said on Monday that government agencies had discussed preparations for a growing crisis in the Middle East, but had no immediate plans for evacuations. The ministry said about 1,600 South Koreans are in Iraq, mostly working in construction, while another 280 who live in Iran are businessmen, students or spouses of Iranians.

On past occasions, China has evacuated its citizens from other countries in times of conflict, political tension or natural disasters. In 2015, the navy transported almost 500 Chinese out of Yemen, devastated by the war. Evacuated 3,000 of Vietnam In 2014, after the deployment of a Chinese oil platform in disputed waters caused a wave of disturbances against China.

There are more than 7,000 Filipino workers and their dependents in Iraq and Iran, including many who work in US and other foreign facilities and commercial establishments in Baghdad , the Department of National Defense said.

Workers in Iran and Iraq are a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who work in countries that border the Persian Gulf.

The Philippines is a leading source of labor throughout the world, with approximately one tenth of its more than 100 million people working primarily as domestic help, construction workers, sailors and professionals.

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