PH troops off to Middle East to bring Filipinos home

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Two Navy ships are now heading to the Middle East to aid in the repatriation of Filipinos in the region.

President Rodrigo Duterte sent off Tuesday Del Pilar-class patrol ship BRP Ramon Alcaraz and landing platform dock BRP Davao del Sur to fetch Filipinos in the Middle East and bring them home.

"This is a sacred mission and it is really to safeguard the lives of the Filipino people. I task you this duty with the prayer and with the hope that you would carry out your mission successfully and that everybody will be safe," Duterte said.

Around 400 troops are on board the vessels. The ships can carry around 700 passengers in total.

The ships are expected to reach Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 25 days. They will have a layover in Sri Lanka to refuel and replenish.

The government has promised Filipinos coming home of livelihood assistance and may be redeployed to a different country.

The Philippines is still bent on sending Filipinos in Iraq home despite what appeared to be a deescalation of conflict between Iran and the United States. Tensions between the two countries rose after Tehran’s top general was killed by a US drone strike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Environment Secretary and Special Envoy to the Middle East Roy Cimatu earlier said at least 1,600 Filipinos in Iraq have expressed intent to avail of repatriation, but only a few of them have actually gone to the embassy. At least 14 Filipinos were supposed to fly back to the country last weekend, but they were delayed due to exit visa issues.

Data from the Department of Labor and Employment showed there are 2,191 OFWs in Iraq, while the Department of Foreign Affairs counted 4,204 Filipinos in the Middle Eastern country as of June 2019.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.