Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to prepare to deploy its aircraft and ships "at any moment’s notice" to evacuate thousands of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran, reflecting Asia’s growing fears for its citizens amid a potential outbreak of violence in the Middle East. Other Asian nations with large populations of expatriate labor may face similar decisions amid the rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and Iran following last week's US airstrike that killed Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, the AP reports. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would work to increase the security of about 1,600 of its nationals in Iraq, where they work mostly in construction sites.
Duterte held an emergency meeting with his defense secretary and top military and police officials Sunday to discuss the evacuation plans. "President Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be prepared to deploy military assets to repatriate overseas Filipinos in the Middle East, particularly from Iran and Iraq, at any moment's notice," said Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go, a close ally of Duterte who was at the meeting. Military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said Philippine forces have identified possible evacuation routes not only in Iraq and Iran but other hotspots, like Israel. (Iraq's Parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.)