PH embassy in Iraq assures Filipinos in Kurdistan it’s monitoring situation as tensions rise

October 16, 2017 - 1:15 AM
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Philippine Embassy Charge d'Affaires Elmer Cato (L) discusses the situation in Kurdistan with Minister Falah Mustafa Bakr of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Kurdistan regional government on Thursday (Oct. 12). PHOTO FROM THE PH EMBASSY IN IRAQ

MANILA – The Philippine embassy in Iraq has advised Filipinos in the Kurdistan region to postpone travel plans, coordinate closely with Philippine authorities and avoid going specifically to Kirkuk, as tensions are rising between the central government and the local Kurd authorities.

In Kirkuk, particularly, there is a standoff between Kurd Peshmerga fighters and Iraq paramilitary units, whose access to oilfields the former have blocked, according to a Reuters report.

“In view of developments taking place in Kirkuk and in the Kurdistan Region of the Republic of Iraq, the Embassy would like to request members of the Filipino Community and their families in the Philippines to remain calm and to continue to monitor the Embassy’s Facebook accounts for updates,” said a message to Filipinos posted on the Embassy’s Facebook page.

At present, the Embassy said it does not see “any immediate threat to the safety and security of our kababayans in the region arising from the reported tensions in Kirkuk Province. However, the Embassy would like to advise Filipinos in Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq to steer clear of Kirkuk at this time.”

There are no Filipinos working in Kirkuk, according to Charge d’Affaires Elmer Cato, but the advisory was issued in case any OFWs elsewhere in the Kurdistan region have plans to go to Kirkuk for any reason.

Some 3,000 of the 4,000 Filipinos working in Iraq are in the Kurdistan region, Cato said.

“The Embassy would also like to request our kababayans in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Duhok and other parts of Kurdistan to continue to remain vigilant and to report any unusual developments with us,” said the Philippine embassy posting.

Emassy officials also explained to the OFWs the implication to their travel plans of the restriction imposed by the Iraqi government as it seeks to engage the Kurds. “In connection with the measures taken by the Government of the Republic of Iraq in reaction to the recent independence referendum, please be informed that Filipinos intending to travel to the Philippines and other countries abroad will be directly impacted by Baghdad’s decision to suspend international flights to and from Kurdistan.”

Filipinos going on vacation, said the embassy, would have to take Iraqi Airways to Baghdad to board their connecting flights to the Philippines or elsewhere outside the country. “Filipinos who entered Kurdistan directly and without valid Iraqi visas will only be allowed to board their connecting flights out of Baghdad after paying a fine of $420.00 to immigration authorities.”

The Embassy advised Filipinos intending to travel out of Kurdistan that “returning to Iraq may become a problem for those without valid Iraqi visas. The Embassy still has not received any guidelines from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad on whether it would be possible for Filipino nationals already in the Philippines to secure their visas at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila.”

Thus, the best option would be for Filipinos “to put on hold their travel plans until this matter is clarified,” said the embassy, adding that “it would not be in a position to assist Filipinos who may not be able to return to their jobs in Kurdistan in the event that they would not be able to secure their visas.”

The Kurdistan Region remains under Alert Level I, meaning, the Filipinos in the area have just been put on alert, but no evacuation is ordered. The Embassy said it will “assist and bring home any of our kababayans who are willing to be repatriated at this point. The Embassy would want our kababayans who have been without work or have not been receiving their salaries or have expired iqamas to seriously consider getting repatriated.”

Also as part of efforts to update contingency plans, the embassy asked Filipinos in Kurdistan as well as in other parts of Iraq “to inform our other kababayans to register so they could be included in the Embassy database. We would need to know their names, location and contact details so we would know how to reach them or find them in case of emergency.”

A delegation from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila will join embassy officials at a townhall meeting with OFWs in Erbil on Friday, Oct. 20.