The Philippines has dispatched its foreign secretary to oversee the evacuation of 13,000 citizens from Libya after a Filipino construction worker was beheaded and a nurse gang-raped there.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Thursday he was flying to Djerba island in neighbouring Tunisia to “try to convince our people to leave [Libya] because the situation there is very dangerous”.
The Philippine government ordered a mandatory evacuation on July 20, hours after the discovery in Benghazi city of the beheaded remains of a Filipino construction worker who had been abducted five days earlier.
On Wednesday a Filipina nurse was abducted by a gang of youths outside her residence in the capital Tripoli, then taken elsewhere where she was gang-raped by up to six suspects, the foreign department said.
She was released about two hours later and a Filipino consular team took her to hospital for treatment, a foreign department spokesman said.
“We condemn these crimes that have been committed against our people,” President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said in Manila.
Spain, France, the US and Greece’s embassies also announced that they were evacuating most of their staff from Tripoli in light of the worsening situation.
A Spanish ministry statement on Thursday said one staff member would remain in charge of the embassy, while the rest were to be flown out.
Greece said it was sending a ship expected to arrive on Thursday evening in Libya to evacuate embassy workers.
France closed its embassy on Wednesday and evacuated 30 French nationals from Tripoli, a few days after the US embassy evacuated its staff across the Tunisian border under heavy military escort.
Reluctant to leave
Del Rosario said on Thursday that he is reprising a 2011 mission to Tunisia that also evacuated, mostly by ferry, thousands of Filipino workers during the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
“Our major challenge, as in 2011, is to convince our folks that they must leave Libya at the soonest time to avoid the perils of a highly exacerbating situation there,” he told the AFP news agency.
Despite the dangers, del Rosario said many of the Filipinos, mostly employed in Libyan construction and hospitals, are refusing to leave because they would be out of a job back home.
Only just over 700 had left Libya by Wednesday, according to a foreign ministry tally, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, with warring militias battling for control of key population centres.
Many of those who left Libya in 2011 later returned to their jobs in Libya.
About 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad, many of them in the Middle East, in search of better-paying jobs.