I’ve been too busy to watch the US news on our cable network, but the BBC reports are mainly about the fighting in Libya.

But here in the Philippines, the headlines are about our workers. You see, there are at least 25,000 Filipino OFW’s (“overseas foreign workers”) in Libya, and although the government has arranged a cruise ship to pick up some and arranged air-flights for others, there are still quite a few there, maybe half of the total number. The government just informed those in Tripoli to try to catch the ship in it’s next trip, since if they miss the ship they may end up stranded.

Yet it’s not just Filipinos, but Chinese (whose country sent their Navy with ships to evacuate them) and Egyptians and Syrians (who are on their own) and Bengalis and Indonesians and many other foreigners who work there who are in jeapordy.

Who are they? I can only speak in generalities of the Philippine workers, and don’t know if this is true in Libya, but there are several groups that tend to work overseas.

There are the skilled, often university trained people who work as engineers, office jobs, nursing, medicine, and telecommunications. There are skilled workers who work in the oil industry at all levels. They work in hotels as clerks and chefs and entertainers. Many are young women, who work as nannies, maids or caretakers. Some are factory workers, usually in richer Asian countries whose own people disdain the low factory wages. And many work as drivers or as skilled laborers in the oil industry.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear that there were a lot of foreign workers stranded in Libya. What shocked me was that there was so many of them.

From StrategyPage:

…there are over a million foreign workers in Libya… The foreigners comprise 20 percent of the population, and nearly half the (non government) workforce.

There are plenty of jobs for Libyans, but most of the jobs require work most Libyans will not do. As a result, most of the jobs are held by foreigners, often illegal immigrants from Egypt and other African nations to the south. A revolution is unlikely to change this.

Yes, if the Filipinos, who often are skilled or documented, are having problems, what about the often undocumented farm and factory workers from countries too poor to help them?

And another problem: The loss of these jobs will have a “ripple effect” on the economies of their home countries that rely on money sent home by these workers to support their families. Ten percent of our people work overseas, and twelve percent of our gross national product comes from the money they send home.

So the ripple effect of the “Jasime revolutions” could be devestating to our economy.

From the Philippine Inquirer:

“Hopefully, there won’t be a domino effect because in Bahrain and Oman we have a total of 70,000 Filipinos. What’s happening now in Libya would look small,” Cruz added.

But if it does come to pass, Baldoz said, the Philippines will seek the help of the United States, which maintains a large naval base in Bahrain for its fleet in the Persian Gulf.

So even if President Obama wants to remain out of the fray, the US may have to enter as humanitarian rescuers despite his reluctance.

And nobody here wants to contemplate what would happen if the “Jasmine revolution” spreads to Saudi Arabia, where unofficial counts of Filipinos (that includes undocumented workers and the children of workers) has been estimated as high as 1.8 million.

So there is a lot of worry here about the safety of our OFW’s, and a lot of worry about unrest here if the government has to aid literally hundreds of thousands of stranded unemployed workers.

Yet as a whole, the “Jasmine revolutions” in the Middle East are viewed with joy, since people see them as similar to our beloved “People power” Revolution 25 years ago, which threw out a dictator and restored democracy.

And there is hope that, once peace is restored, the workers will be rehired to work in the new democracies in the Middle East.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.  She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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