Globalization's Victims: Filipino Workers in Algeria

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 1/25/2013 11:25:00 AM
The Philippines is famously a country of migration with an estimated one-tenth of its population of ninety million working overseas. I am of the belief that there is nothing wrong with that. After all, the UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 13 (2) states: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." On the other hand, it is also true that Filipinos overseas often engage in archetypal "3-D" jobs that are difficult, dangerous or dirty. As it turns out, Filipino workers plying their trades in the Middle East are plentiful. Observe the regularity with which Filipino seafarers are held hostage when ship hijackings occur off the coast of Somalia.

For a long time, Filipino gas field workers were thought to have among the cushier jobs in the Middle East. Working in these fields run and maintained by major local and international firms, they had access to many amenities unavailable in local communities including much-appreciated 24-hour air-conditioning in desert climates. However, the recent attack in Algeria punctured the notion of these oil fields being gated communities of the world economy. Perhaps inevitably given their ubiquity in the region, eight Filipino workers died in the assault by Islamic militants:
The Department of Foreign Affairs said that another Filipino has been confirmed killed in last week’s siege by Islamic militants of a remote natural gas plant in Algeria, bringing to eight the total number of Filipino fatalities...

The Philippine government has said 12 other Filipino workers survived the 72-hour hostage drama in the north African desert. Dozens of foreigners were killed during a four-day standoff that ended in a bloody showdown with Algerian commandos on Saturday, with reports of summary executions. 
The question for the Philippine government is what responsibility it has towards its migrants as an active promoter of overseas employment. That is, while Filipinos are certainly free to work overseas at their own discretion, the government's responsibility may be heightened by implication through its active involvement in the process. Unfortunately, its reactions are thus more reactive than proactive given obvious limitations:
Thirty-four Filipinos working at the Algerian gas field where dozens of foreigners are feared dead in a hostage incident have been flown out of the country, a Philippine government spokesman said yesterday...

Manila is still trying to determine how many Filipinos were in the gas plant, a task that was complicated by the many foreign companies and contractors operating in the area, [Foreign Undersecretary Raul Hernandez] said. He estimated that there were about 3,400 Filipinos working in Algeria.
Make no mistake: ideological conflicts between Western powers and their fundamentalist Islamic opponents waged all over the world often result in "collateral damage" among migrant workers.