OFWs in Middle East May Be Evacuated Due to Tension Between U.S. and Iran
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to prepare for the possible evacuation of all Filipinos in the Middle East in light of the escalating tension between Iran and U.S. forces.
Duterte called an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon with the country’s top military and police officials, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, according to Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Director Arsenio Andolong. They discussed an evacuation plan for all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stationed in the Middle East,in case the deteriorating Iran-U.S. relations posed a threat to their safety.
“The President has tasked the AFP to prepare its air and naval assets to evacuate and bring home our countrymen if and when open hostilities erupt in the Middle East that may endanger their lives,” said Andolong.
According to Andolong, there are more than 1,600 Filipinos in Iran and 6,000 Filipinos in Iraq, which are the areas experiencing the most tension following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassam Soleimani while he was in Iraq. The Philippine Embassy in Iran has issued an advisory requesting all OFWs in the country to coordinate with the embassy should they have questions or concerns.
The Philippine Embassy in Iraq has already advised OFWs currently in Iraq to go on leave or to extend their leaves if they are abroad. A deployment ban is already being implemented on new workers in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has already advised Filipinos to cancel all travel plans to Iraq as tension continues to rise in the region.
The Iran-U.S. crisis, explained
On January 3, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Baghdad International Airport airstrike in Iraq, which killed the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Soleimani, as well as nine other military commanders. Widely considered to be the second most powerful man in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Soleimani played a key role in promoting Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East and was considered a hero in his home country. However, U.S. officials claim that Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the deaths of many Americans.
Prior to Soleimani’s killing, the American Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, was attacked by pro-Iranian forces, who committed the act in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which in turn took place in retaliation to a joint U.S. and Iraqi military base. Before these events, there were drone strikes, sabotage attacks, and proxy wars, all within the last two years.
Tensions escalated in 2018 when Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Iran nuclear deal, which was orchestrated under the Obama administration. The deal would have lifted sanctions against Iran, and in return, Iran would cease all nuclear operations. However, Trump’s withdrawal reinstated severe sanctions against Iran, which proved detrimental to its economy and led to even more hostility between the nations.
After Soleimani’s death, oil prices soared by four percent globally, and nations around the world strengthened their defenses and are calling for a de-escalation to prevent a war from erupting. Iran’s leader Khamenei has warned that the U.S. will soon face Iran’s “harsh retaliation,” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claiming that the country will “take revenge” for Soleimani’s death.
Meanwhile, Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates for the death of its top military leader. The number 52 is symbolic as it’s the same number of Americans held hostage by Iran in 1979 in order to get the U.S. to release the overthrown Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to stand trial in Iran for his crimes against the people. Pahlavi was installed as the Shah of Iran in 1953 by the U.S. government after the Central Intelligence Agency organized a coup that removed then leader Mohammad Mossadegh. This is widely considered the start of the tension between the two nations.
The deteriorating relationship between Iran and the U.S. is the result of years of hostility going back to just after World War II. Relations have only grown worse with time, and Soleimani’s death has caused alarm around the world, with every nation waiting—with dread—for Iran’s next move.