Manila: While most overseas workers in Libya had been trying to leave, Filipina nurses in the embattled North African country are drawing praise for their commitment to their vocation.

Reports reaching Manila said that thousands of Filipino nurses and medical staff have chosen to brave and wait out the several weeks of political strife out of professional commitment.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said that despite a move by the Philippine government to offer repatriation to Filipinos who volunteer to get out of Libya, some 8,000 nurses and other medical workers chose to stay despite the obvious risk to their lives.

"Our nurses deserve our admiration and also, I guess it's the reason Libyan people love Filipinos there," he said recently upon his return to Manila at the end of a two-week visit to Libya and Tunisia.

There are 1,300 Filipino nurses employed by the Tripoli Medical Centre — one of the largest hospital in Libya — and a further 600 at the Benghazi Medical Centre

Strategic areas

The fighting between government forces of Muammar Gaddafi and rebels had been largely confined to strategic areas in Tripoli and Benghazi and medical facilities in these locales are hard-pressed attending to civilian as well as military casualties. Conejos said that because of the commitment shown by Filipino medical workers, they have earned the respect of not only the Libyans, but other foreign nationals as well.

Prior to the outbreak of protests against the government of Gaddafi, the Department of Foreign Affairs said there were 26,000 Filipinos in Libya at any given time.

These Philippine nationals include skilled workers, information technology professionals, engineers, oil field workers, technicians as well as medical workers.

As of Friday, the DFA said nearly 14,000 Filipinos have left Libya. Of this number, more than 6,000 are already in Manila.

Earlier, Labour and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz said her department's National Reintegration Centre for Overseas (NRCO) Filipino workers is ready with appropriate programmes for returnees, particularly those who have arrived and those yet to arrive from Libya.

She said mechanisms to ensure their smooth reintegration to mainstream Philippine society are in place.

Reintegration initiatives

"Even before this crisis in Libya erupted, the NRCO has already established various reintegration programmes for OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers)," said Dimapilis-Baldoz, adding that as early as November last year President Benigno Aquino instructed the Labour Department to set aside one billion pesos (Dh84.5 million) for the reintegration programme.

At least one out of every 10 Filipinos is employed in jobs overseas and with the current situation in North Africa and the Middle East, the Philippines could be forced to adapt measures that will allow its remittances-dependent economy to catch up with the rapidly developing changes abroad.