Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gov't may lift ban on sending OFWs to Iraq, Nigeria

02/06/2009 | 07:55 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will reassess its current ban on sending workers to Iraq, Nigeria and Lebanon and may lift it in areas with lower security risks because of the global economic crisis, the vice president said Friday.

The country's economy is largely dependent on its overseas workers, with some 8.7 million out of 90 million Filipinos working abroad. The government said $14.45 billion was sent home in 2007— about 10 percent of the gross domestic product. It has projected 2008 remittances will hit $15.7 billion.

Vice President Noli de Castro, who is also the presidential adviser on migrant workers, said security has reportedly improved in the economic centers of Iraq, Nigeria and Lebanon.

He said a selective lifting of the ban is being considered "to widen our overseas employment market in the light of the global economic crisis."

A lifting of the ban is only being considered in places with high employment opportunities, and it would remain in areas still considered high-risk zones, de Castro said in a statement.

A team headed by Roy Cimatu, special envoy to the Middle East, will leave soon to reassess the security risks in the three countries, Department of Foreign Affairs officials said.

In a meeting with de Castro last month, Iraqi officials urged the Philippines to send workers to help with the reconstruction of their country, where up to 10 million new jobs are available, the statement said.

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. He was released after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agreed to withdraw the Philippines' small military contingent in Iraq — a decision strongly criticized by Washington and other coalition allies.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said about 10,000 Filipinos work in two US military camps in Iraq without permission from the government.

Some 3,800 Filipinos work in Nigeria's bustling oil industry. Arroyo banned additional workers from going there in 2007 after gunmen kidnapped scores of foreign workers, including dozens of Filipinos.

The Philippines also prohibited the deployment of its workers to Lebanon after war broke out in July 2006. - AP

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