MANILA, Jan 18 – 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 Friday.
Another Filipino worker escaped on his own along with a Japanese national, Foreign Undersecretary Raul Hernandez said as the kidnap drama unfolded.
It was not certain how many of the Philippine workers, who were flown to London by their foreign employer Thursday, were taken hostage when Islamist gunmen overran a gas plant in the north African desert the previous day, Hernandez said.
One of those evacuated, one had suffered a gunshot wound, he said, declining to confirm press reports that at least two Filipinos were among those killed when the Algerian military launched its rescue operation.
It remained uncertain whether Philippine nationals were among those hurt during the rescue bid, he said.
“The Algerians admitted that there were some deaths and injuries on the side of the hostages following the operation undertaken by the Algerian military forces but no details were released,” Hernandez said.
Earlier he said the brother and wife of two Filipino workers in Algeria had separately told the department that their relatives and 19 other Filipino co-workers had been in the gas field during the hostage-taking.
“Just before the incident in Algeria, they were able to talk to their relatives who were inside Algeria. They said, ‘We are here inside and there are other Filipinos with us,’” Hernandez said.
But it was not clear what happened to these people, he added.
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, he said.
He estimated that there were about 3,400 Filipinos working in Algeria.
About nine million Filipinos work around the world, as seamen, labourers, domestic helpers and in many other fields, earning more than they could in their poverty-stricken home country.
The money they send home is a major pillar of the local economy, but they are often exposed to danger overseas and their welfare is a thorny issue in the Philippines.