The Philippines is preparing to evacuate thousands of its workers in the Middle East if tensions in the region escalate following hostilities between Iran and the US. In an emergency meeting on Sunday, January 5, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be ready to evacuate Filipinos in the Middle East. According to a spokesperson from the Department of National Defense, there was particular concern for the safety of those in Iraq and Iran—6,000 and 1,600 Filipino workers are located in those countries respectively.
Such an exodus would potentially be a huge undertaking, with considerable economic and social implications. The Middle East is a top destination for Filipino workers who seek employment abroad: out of an estimated 10 million Filipinos who work overseas, at least 1.2 million, and possibly twice that number by some estimates, are located in the Middle East. Many of them are domestic workers, and their families often rely primarily on their remittances.
If tensions in the Middle East should put these workers out of jobs, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the Philippines economy would not be able to reabsorb them easily. The structural economic issues that sent them abroad in the first place, including lower wages and a lack of career advancement, continue to exist. Instead, they would most likely seek employment in other, more stable parts of the world that are open to skilled labor. Japan, for example, has offered 50,000 vacancies to Filipino professionals across a range of industries, and China is extending 100,000 vacancies for Filipino teachers who can teach English.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the country’s largest labor group, has also said it is looking into how to deal with the potential loss of employment for Filipinos in the Middle East.