Travel Ban to Afghanistan, a Simplistic Solution
Posted date: November 07, 2007

The FIA is an organization that represents more than 1,000 Filipinos in Afghanistan. We respectfully submit to you our request for the lifting of the deployment ban of Filipinos in Afghanistan. The Master List of Filipinos working in Afghanistan as of October 2007 is available upon request.

We appeal to our government’s good judgment to consider the consequence of the ban to the Filipinos in Afghanistan and our families in the Philippines.

We understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs´ reason for the ban is the security situation in Afghanistan. It is true that being a post-conflict country, Afghanistan has residual security problems, but the conditions here are not as bad as the situation in countries like Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Israel where there is no ban on deployment of OFW’s.

Many Filipinos in Afghanistan are currently occupying senior positions in international development (World Bank, UNDP, USAID, ADB, Adam Smith), humanitarian (international NGOs), reconstruction (engineering, architectural design and telecommunications firms) and office/camp management (security, office/camp supplies and catering services) organizations.
They have experience in post-conflict countries (on-going conflict in some) such as Iraq, Angola, Bosnia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Aceh (Indonesia), Timor Leste, Cambodia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. We chose to work here in our search for better job opportunities that are not available in our country.

We summarize the reasons for our request to lift the ban:

1. Our employers are reputable international organizations with projects worldwide and as such, working with these organizations in Afghanistan will be a door through which we will be able to get postings in other countries.

2. With the ban, the Philippine Government is making an assumption that our employers are irresponsible. There are other nationalities working with Filipinos – Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, Italians, New Zealanders, etc – and they trust the security measures of our employers.

3.Our employers provide physical security arrangements to Filipino employees (some are issued armoured vests and Kevlar helmets): secured housing, armed guards, vehicles (including armoured vehicles), security checks and monitoring through radios. We have a strict security regulation that non-compliance of which result to termination of employment.

4.Filipino employees of some organizations are automatically included in the evacuation plans of the embassies under which the organizations belong.

5. Many of the Filipinos in Afghanistan work for agencies involved in security work and are therefore aware of the daily security situation. Security information is also being shared by all international agencies.

a.NGOs receive daily and weekly security advisories from ANSO (Afghanistan NGO Security Office), which is a security advisory project funded by the ECHO under the German Agro Action.
b.UN, USAID, ADB and World Bank personnel have their own security information procedures.
c.Private security agencies have their own sources of security information.
d.Embassies disseminate security information to its citizens and to organizations under the government of that embassy.

6.There has not been any Filipino who died from suicide bombings or has been caught in the conflict between the US/NATO and the armed opposition groups.

7.Most of the Filipinos in Afghanistan have careers in international development, humanitarian and reconstruction work and this line of work is usually in post-conflict countries.

8. Loss of income by many of the over 1,000 Filipinos working in Afghanistan. The average income of the Filipinos working in Afghanistan is $3,000 per month. A lot of the Filipinos in Afghanistan are professionals and occupy very responsible positions.

9.Filipinos are provided with life, accident and medical evacuation insurance coverage by their employers.

10.Responsible positions occupied by Filipinos include Country Managers/Directors, Project Team Leaders, Lead Engineers, Project Managers, and Department Heads among others. An abrupt departure from these responsibilities as a result of the ban is not fair to our agencies. Projects will be adversely affected and funds already allocated for the projects will be wasted. Thus, this will not put us in the good light with these agencies for future employment.

11.The DFA has been working with the International Organization for the Migration (IOM) as its partner specifically in the evacuation of the Filipinos during the war in Lebanon. The IOM is on the ground Afghanistan and with Filipinos employees as well.

12.Lack of alternative employment provided for Filipinos who will lose their jobs at very short notice.

13. Many of Filipinos here have invested their earnings to housing and business ventures in the Philippines. We are still paying for these housing and business loans and losing our jobs will mean reneging on monthly amortizations and the consequential loss of relatively huge amounts already invested.

14.There is a cohesive association of Filipinos in Afghanistan (FIA), which other post-conflict countries may not have, that volunteers to provide some support to “kababayans”, in the physical absence of a Philippine Consulate and DOLE representatives in Afghanistan.

a. The FIA has a warden system to respond to emergencies.
b. The FIA has proven itself in providing the necessary assistance to Filipinos – repatriating the remains of a Filipina who died for a crime-related incident, seeking medical help for sick Filipinos (quite a number of Filipinos are involved in medical work), temporary housing for Filipinos terminated from work without notice, repatriating the remains of Filipinos who died from health related causes.
c. The FIA has regularly kept in touch and provided updates to the Philippine Embassy in Islamabad regarding the situation in Afghanistan.

We do not understand the rhyme or reason for this deployment ban to Afghanistan. We feel like we are being played with and sacrificed for our Philippine government’s deficiencies somewhere. We thought we are being hailed by the nation as modern day heroes but are we really? Over a thousand Filipinos will lose good paying jobs as a result of this ban. From an economically productive life, we and our families become an addition to the statistics of an already high poverty rate in the Philippines.

The ban is unfair to us. We were not consulted or given time to find other employment. Nor has the Philippine government provided an alternative for us. We would rather live and work in a dangerous country where we have employment and be able to put food on our table, provide shelter and clothing and send our children to school. The Philippine government does not have the right to take away our jobs if it is not able to provide these for us.

It is particularly cruel to impose this ban at this time of the year when Filipinos are going home to spend the Christmas holidays with their families. It is supposed to be the time of cheer. But with the ban, it will be a time of pain and despair.

Strangely enough, the Philippines is the only country that bans its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan. The ban is a simplistic solution to the problem of security. The Philippine government should seek to work closely with the Filipino communities in other countries and strengthen them instead of make unilateral decisions that have adverse affects on the economic independence of these Filipinos.

With this ban, the Philippine government might have found a solution to physical security but in consequence, it is threatening our economic security which is even worse and potentially destabilizing to our country.

We only seek for better lives for ourselves and our families as we seek your government’s understanding and support to our request.

Catherine S. Sobrevega
Representative, Filipinos in Afghanistan (FIA)
+93799419712 / +93797093073

Signed and agreed upon by 71 Filipinos representing 71 companies and 1,181 Filipinos working in Afghanistan this 2nd of November 2007 in Kabul, Afghanistan.