By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Rebel forces allied with the United States and the Northern Alliance Treaty Organization (NATO) might be targeting migrants and citizens of other nationalities in Libya.
This is the fear of Migrante International after reports have surfaced that in the worsening conflict in Libya, rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan President Muammar Quaddafi might be going after migrants. The group said the Philippine government must speed up rescue and repatriate all Filipinos still in Libya. According to latest reports, there at least 14,000 Filipinos there.It raised the alarm anew after a series of attacks on the embassies and territories owned by Kenya, Africa, Venezuela, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Of the six million population in Libya, an estimated 1.5 million are migrant workers. Before the conflict erupted, some 30,000 Filipinos were based in Libya. Only half have been repatriated by the Philippine government.
Migrante International chairperson Garry Martinez called on President Benigno Aquino III to hasten repatriation efforts and release updates on the well-being and whereabouts of the OFWS.
“We have received reports that the rebels are killing and targeting dark-skinned people because they are viewed as ‘mercenaries’ and supporters of Gaddafi,” he said.
Rebels abducting, killing civilians
According to international news reports, rebels in east Libya have begun a killing spree against immigrants. Nato-supported rebels are on the warpath against immigrants and foreigners and have started to detain, rape and even execute black immigrants, students and refugees. It has also been reported that in the last two weeks, more than 100 Africans from various Sub-Saharan states are believed to have been killed by Libyan rebels and their supporters.
Independent news media have been appealing for a stop to the carnage as they recounted reports from Somali refugees in Libya that at least five Somalis in Tripoli and Benghazi have been massacred by anti-Gaddafi mobs. Dozens of refugees and migrant workers from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Mali and Niger have also reportedly been killed. Some of the victims were first led into the desert and then stabbed to death. Black Libyan men receiving medical care in hospitals in Benghazi were reportedly abducted by armed rebels.
They are part of more than 200 African immigrants held in secret locations by the rebels. The rebels are accusing dark-skinned migrants of being “mercenaries” and Gaddafi loyalists.
“We have also heard reports that Libyan rebels also hold in suspicion Venezuelans, Vietnamese and Filipino nationals whose governments have not yet officially recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC),” said Martinez.
Earlier, rebels attacked and ransacked the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli. No Filipino was reported hurt but Martinez said the recent attack gives a clear picture of the still escalating chaos in Libya.
“There is anarchy and lawlessness in Libya.It’s quite difficult to believe the Aquino government’s claims that no Filipinos have been contacting them for repatriation,” he said.
Recall, Investigate DFA officials in the Middle East
In the meantime, the migrant group is also charging Philippine officials in Libya of being criminally negligent.
Martinez said the Aquino administration should recall Labor Attache Nasser Mustafah who, according to Migrante’s contacts in Libya, continues to facilitate and arrange job orders for Filipino workers in Libya despite the dangerous situation there.
Labatt Mustafah allegedly has questionable links with the Fastlink Agency owned by a certain Mr. Al Hadih.
“We have received reports that as we speak Labatt Mustafah is preparing prospects of employment for Filipino medical workers in the Al Nahar Company (ANC),” he said. Martinez said Al Hadih has a Filipino wife who is based in Cebu City.
“We call on the government to urgently investigate these reports in accordance with the deployment ban presently in place,” Martinez said.
Migrante International’s chapter in the Middle East has earlier demanded that the recalled envoy to Syria and his staff and officials from other line agencies deployed at the Philippine diplomatic post in Syria be investigated.
Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) regional coordinator John Leonard Monteron said former ambassador Wilfredo Cuyugan and his diplomatic staff did not only fail to immediately repatriate distressed overseas Filipino who have been under the post’s custody since June, but they also failed to work on the legalization of more than 15,000 undocumented OFWs in Syria.
Monterona said Cuyugan and his staff should be investigated for these serious shortcomings. He cited the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 and its provision stating that diplomatic posts through their Filipino workers resource centers are mandated to institute a registration scheme for undocumented OFWs.
“The embassy in Syria, the Department of Foreign Affiairs and the Department of Labor are all saying that 90 percent of the OFWs in Syria are undocumented. If this is true, then what have these agencies done to help the undocumented process their papers and be granted legal recognition as migrant workers?”, he said.
Monterona noted that if not for the conflict that exploded in Libya, the deplorable plight of the undocumented OFWs would not have been exposed.
“It’s all the more appalling how the government seems to blame the undocumented for their woes, never considering that these Filipinos were forced to run away from their employers for reasons of abuse, maltreatment, and labor malpractice,” he pointed out.
Monterona noted that as of August 31, only around 17 OFWs have been repatriated from Syria.
“They were those among the 60 distressed who have been staying at the Philippine embassy’s Filipino Workers Resource Centers (FWRC) since June,” he said. “The ‘wait and see’ stance of the government is endangering the lives of OFWs in strife-torn countries like Syria. If the Philippine government and its agencies had immediately put together and implemented a plan to find the OFWs in Syria before the conflict escalated, the this chaos of having to secure and then evacuate OFWs in the midst of the falling bullets and bombs would not have had to happen. The embassy should also have made arrangements with the employers and agencies of the 800 documented OFWs as well,” he said.
With regards to the undocumented OFWs, Monterona said, Migrante has been urging the government long before any conflict in the region erupted to to work for the legalization, if not repatriation, of undocumented OFWs via a diplomatic course of action with the host governments.
“But the Philippine government simply disregards the plight the thousands of undocumented OFWs here in the Middle East. There’s an estimated 36,000 to 40,000 undocumented OFWs in the entire Middle East and other 1.8 million to two million OFWs majority of of whom are working in Saudi Arabia, ” he said.