Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships “at any moment’s notice” to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran should violence break out, reflecting Asia’s growing fears for its citizens in the increasingly volatile Middle East.
Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labour may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defence secretary and top military and police officials to discuss the evacuation plans.
“President Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any moment’s notice,” said Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally of Duterte who fears that the Philippines may have to carry out massive evacuations if violence hits Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia that host large numbers of Filipino workers.
“I’m nervous. Iran seems to be hell-bent on a retaliation, which I think will come. It’s a matter of time ... the cry for blood is there,” Duterte said. He urged Congress to hold a special session on the impact of a possible crisis in the Middle East and set aside contingency funds.
Iran has vowed to retaliate, and President Donald Trump warned that US forces would hit back at 52 Iranian targets if Americans come under attack. Iraq’s parliament has also called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, which could revive the Islamic State group in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.