SARS: LIBYA BANS PINOY WORKERS

Manila, April 25, 2003 -- The Philippine government will file today a diplomatic protest against Libya for imposing an "unfair" and "discriminatory" travel ban against Filipino workers bound for Tripoli due to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will summon Libyan Ambassador to Manila Salem Adam to hand over the note verbale requesting Tripoli to lift the ban as soon as possible to avoid further inconvenience to Filipino workers.

Some 132 Filipino workers bound for Tripoli were not allowed to board their flight last April 23 by Egypt Air after the airline received instruction from the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority and Libyan Immigration Authority to suspend the deployment of workers.

"Any unilateral action taken by the Libya is construed as unfair, discriminatory and adversely impacts on our bilateral relations," a DFA report said.

Adam is expected to meet with Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Lauro Baja Jr. or Foreign Undersecretary for International and Economic Relations Delia Albert.

The DFA will convey to Adam the following: The Philippines is still being classified as SARS-free, hence any unilateral action not based on World Health Organization (WHO) standards and recommendations should be viewed as discriminatory; the Libyan government and agencies did not give notice to the Philippine Embassy of the suspension policy; it is also of concern that the Libyan government instructions obtained by the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli and the DFA came from third party sources, which has caused inconvenience on the part of the OFWs and the Philippine government.

About 6,000 Filipino workers will be affected by the ban imposed by Libya.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople also yesterday warned the Philippines would lodge a strong protest against any country that would ban the entry of Filipinos or prohibit travel to the Philippines on the grounds that the country remains SARS-free.

"There is no medical or factual basis for anyone to discriminate against travellers coming from or going to the Philippines," he said.

The extraordinary efforts taken by the Philippines in coordination with other countries and international organizations to prevent the spread of SARS have been clearly successful and the results speak of themselves, Ople added.

Should there be a possible outbreak of SARS in the country, he stressed the government has measures and resources in place to ensure it will be contained and the inbound and outbound travels will continue to be generally safe.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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