Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Philippines will not lift ban on workers in Iraq

FACTS ON THE GROUNDThe government says about 10,000 Filipinos are workering at US military camps because they are paid three times their normal salaries

AP , MANILA

The Philippines has no immediate plan to lift a ban on its citizens working in Iraq, the labor secretary said on Saturday after a plea from an Iraqi diplomat for more foreign laborers to help with the war-torn country’s reconstruction.

Philippine Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said there would be no deployment of Filipino workers pending an assessment of the security situation in Iraq.

Roque said Iraqi officials asked the Philippines to lift the ban several weeks ago because of an expected construction boom.

“I told them, ‘Wait a minute. We have to see if you can guarantee the security of our workers before we consider allowing our workers to work in Iraq,’” he said during the weekly radio broadcast of Philippine Vice President Noli de Castro.

The Philippines’ economy is largely dependent on its overseas workers. Some 8.7 million of the Philippines’ 90 million people work abroad and last year they sent home a total of US$14.45 billion — about 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Adel Mawlood Hamoudi al-Hakimh, Iraq’s charge d’affaires, said on Friday that the Middle Eastern country needed construction and oil workers, engineers, nurses, teachers and technicians.

He said Iraqi Immigration Minister Abdul Samad Abdul Rahman had discussed lifting the ban with Philippine officials, who said it could be removed in the coming months. Another meeting on the matter is expected in January, he said.

Much of Iraq’s infrastructure was destroyed during the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War followed by years of economic sanctions, and the 2003 US-led invasion.

The Philippines banned its citizens from working in Iraq in July 2004 after insurgents abducted and threatened to behead Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz. The militants released him after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agreed to withdraw the Philippines’ small military contingent in Iraq — a decision strongly criticized by Washington and other coalition allies.

Roque said about 10,000 Filipinos worked in two US military camps without permission from the Philippine government, including many who were recruited while employed elsewhere in the Middle East with a promise of up to three times what they were being paid.

He said the Filipinos worked mainly in the maintenance of the camps, including doing the laundry for US troops.

Al-Hakimh said the number of Filipino workers had risen to 15,000 despite the ban. Most Filipinos entered Iraq via Jordan and Syria with coalition forces or US companies, he said.

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