PH embassy identifies 13 OFWs killed in Iraq hotel fire, vows to repatriate victims soon

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The Philippine Embassy said it is now bracing itself for the hard part: "Conveying the sad news to loved ones."

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq has identified all 13 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) killed in a hotel fire in Erbil, Iraq on Friday (February 5).

The Filipino victims were all female workers of the Capitol Hotel in the Kurdistan capital. They were suffocated by the smoke while trying to get out of the hotel during the fire, according to the Philippine Embassy.

Charge d' Affaires Elmer Cato said the Kurdistan Regional Government has assured it will facilitate the fast repatriation of the victims' remains. The Philippine Embassy also said it will "do everything it can to bring them home as soon as possible."

“While it normally takes two weeks or more before deceased migrant workers could be sent home, the Embassy is hopeful that with the support promised by Kurdish authorities, the families in the Philippines will not wait that long,” the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (February 9).

Cato earlier said the embassy will notify the next of kin first before releasing the victims' names.

Citing a report from the Kurdistan Regional Government, Cato ruled out terrorism in the tragedy that killed six others.

Investigators said faulty wiring caused the fire at the hotel's basement level.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Asec Charles Jose addressed the media Tuesday (February 9) and expressed sympathy to the families of those who died in the fire.

"The embassy is in discussion with the representative of the employer with regard to the cost of repatriation and possible financial assistance to the families," he said.

13 – not 14 – OFW casualties

A team from the Philippine Embassy arrived in Erbil on Saturday afternoon (February 6) to coordinate with local authorities there for the repatriation of the OFW victims.

Cato said the Philippine Embassy was notified by the Kurdistan government on Saturday morning of the casualties.

At past 3 p.m. a team from the Philippine Embassy arrived, a tweet posted by the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad said. They boarded an aircraft provided by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Upon arriving, the team confirmed that there were only 13 Filipino fatalities – not 14, as initially reported.

1500 OFWs in Kurdistan

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Asec. Charles Jose told CNN Philippines there are about 1,500 Filipinos working in Kurdistan, most of them working as hotel and restaurant workers, engineers, nurses and household service workers.

A crisis alert level of 4, requiring mandatory repatriation, is placed on Iraq due to its deteriorating security situation. The autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, however, is not covered by this as it is relatively calm, the DFA said.