Philippines bans workers' deployment to Libya amid fighting

The Philippine government on Wednesday imposed a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya because of fighting between rival militias for control of the North African nation's capital, the labor chief said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the indefinite ban would affect new Libya-bound workers and even Filipinos scheduled to return there after work breaks. There are more than 2,600 Filipinos in Libya, many working as nurses, teachers and oil industry workers.

Fighting for control of the capital has threatened to plunge Libya deeper into chaos and ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 NATO-supported uprising, which turned into a ruinous conflict that killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The deployment ban was imposed after the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila on Monday raised the threat level in Libya's capital to 3 and urged Filipinos and their dependents in Tripoli and outlying areas to consider leaving temporarily to avoid getting caught in the fighting.

If the threat level is raised to 4, the government will have to implement a forced evacuation of Filipinos, Bello said.

The Philippine-declared threat level applies only to Tripoli and areas within a 100-kilometer (62-mile) radius of the capital, but Bello told reporters in Manila that the government "cannot just ban in several specific areas only. So in effect, it is a total ban."

Manila's top diplomat in Tripoli, Elmer Cato, said that of about 1,000 Filipinos in Tripoli, only 11 have so far contacted the Philippine Embassy to seek help for repatriation. The others "feel they are safe since the fighting is still confined to the outskirts. But the situation can change anytime and we expect the number to go up when fighting reaches the city itself," he said.

Cato assured Filipinos in Libya that he and other Filipino diplomats would not close the embassy, saying it had remained open during worse fighting in the past.

"We do not leave our people behind," Cato said by phone from Tripoli.

The Philippines is one of the world's major labor providers, with a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad, including many house helpers and construction workers. The income they send home has helped the Philippine economy stay afloat in dire economic times in the past.