MANILA, Feb. 24, 2011—Workers hoping to take the next plane out to greener pastures in the Middle East and East Africa may have to wait until the peace and order situation improves as the Philippine government issued a hold order effective Feb. 22.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Deputy Administrator for Employment and Welfare Viveca C. Catalig told CBCP News they have explained the situation to a number of workers whose contracts have already been approved that they would have to wait for a little while.

Catalig met with some OFWs bound for Bahrain, Libya and Yemen and told them that they may have to wait in Manila until the situation in those countries get better.

She said the government cannot afford to allow would-be overseas workers to fly out of the country and find themselves in the middle of armed conflict.

Catalig said their records reveal some 31,000 Filipinos are in Bahrain, 26,000 Filipinos are employed in oil-rich Libya and about 1,400 are currently working in Yemen. She said she believed most of the Filipinos in the Middle East and Eastern Africa are documented workers.

“A number of them are in the construction business, while others are in the production and service areas,” she added.

Asked why most number of Filipinos are employed in the Middle East, Catalig said it is not due to the attraction to the area but because of the availability of jobs.

It will be recalled Filipino workers were barred from getting employment contracts in strife-torn Iraq but a number of them landed high-paying jobs just the same.

Catalig revealed that even though Filipinos are prohibited by the Department of Foreign Affairs from traveling to Iraq, still they managed to find work there through another country or simply by crossing borders.

Meanwhile, Fr. Edwin Corros, the executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People said, he has not received calls from any of the overseas workers in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen calling for help.

Corros said it is natural for the families of Filipino workers posted abroad to worry and over-react to media reports but from his experience while working as chaplain overseas, Filipino workers live normal lives even in countries where armed conflicts take place.

According to DFA reports, the Philippine Embassies in Tripoli, Manama and Riyadh are in heightened alert, but Filipinos in their respective areas are safe. Embassy officials are in constant contact with them after the establishment of 24-hour crisis monitoring teams. The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh covers Yemen.

Filipinos in areas where protest actions are taking place were told to be alert when in public places or on major roads and stay away from large crowds and demonstrations.

SNC Lavelin Company officials reported 1,800 Filipinos working at an airport construction has remained safe in Benghazi as the company has its own security personnel. They have enough food and water.

No evacuation has been ordered by Thai, Indonesian, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi embassies as of this time. (Melo M. Acuna)