Philippines lifts 9-year ban on sending workers to Iraq
MANILA // The Philippines is lifting a nine-year ban on sending workers to Iraq, declaring the country mostly safe despite its worst bout of violence in years.
Filipinos, except for household helpers who are mainly female, can now work in Iraq outside four "no-go" provinces still considered dangerous, said Hans Cacdac, head of the labour ministry's overseas employment administration.
He expects Filipinos to pour into the rebuilding of the country's oil and gas, construction, medical and hotel industries.
"According to the department of foreign affairs, the security situation is good enough to have overseas Filipino workers in Iraq," Mr Cacdac said.
"But the workers will be advised to take the precautionary measures."
He said Filipina maids will still be barred from Iraq because there was "no adequate protection in place" for them.
The Philippines banned its workers from going to Iraq after a Filipino lorry driver was kidnapped by militants in 2004 after the US-led invasion there.
The driver was released unharmed after then-president Gloria Arroyo pulled out a Filipino contingent serving in the US-led coalition.
The "no-go" areas still considered too dangerous are the provinces of Anbar, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, Mr Cacdac said.
Despite the nine-year ban, industry analysts had estimated that as many as 10,000 Filipinos were working in Iraq illegally.
Mr Cacdac however said he knew of only about 700 workers there now.
Iraqi officials have previously asked the Philippines to let its workers be deployed for "the rehabilitation of Iraqi industries and facilities", the government agency said.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday that Iraq was "on the brink", with the country suffering its worst wave of violence since 2008. More than 3,000 people have been killed so far this year.
An estimated 10 million Filipinos or about 10 per cent of the population work abroad in search of better pay than at home.
The money they send back is a major pillar of the Philippine economy but their safety is also a hot political issue.