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Filipinos unwilling to flee Gaza as Palestinian relatives not allowed to leave

MANILA: Many Filipinos living in Gaza are unwilling to leave because their Palestinian spouses would be unable to join them, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday.

Of the 136 Filipinos trapped in Gaza since Israel began its daily bombardment of the densely populated enclave three weeks ago, only two have been evacuated — doctors Darwin Dela Cruz and Regidor Esguerra, from the international aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, who entered Egypt through the Rafah crossing on Wednesday.

The remaining 134 have all received clearance from Israeli authorities to leave, Foreign Affairs Department undersecretary Eduardo De Vega told reporters in Manila.

Evacuation has been complicated, as it requires clearance from Israel’s authorities and poses a risk, since Israeli planes are continuing their deadly strikes on Gaza, where they have already killed at least 9,200 people.

“The first batch of Filipinos will be leaving tomorrow,” De Vega said on Saturday. “There’ll be 20 of them and afterwards — it could be the next day or in the next two days — a batch of 23. We want it to be higher, hopefully.”

However, while 115 Filipinos were ready to return to their country a few days ago, many of them have now changed their minds, having learned that they would have to leave their Palestinian relatives behind, since Israel has not given them clearance to leave.

“So far, only 43 of the Filipinos have signified that they definitely want to leave Gaza,” De Vega said. “A lot of them do not want to leave their Palestinian spouses or parents.”

Most of the Filipinos in Gaza are permanent residents. Two-thirds of them are Palestinian Filipinos who were born or raised there.

There is also a Catholic nun from the Missionaries of Charity who, since the beginning of the attacks, has categorically refused to leave her church in Gaza City, where hundreds of people have taken refuge.

“She is 63. Very brave,” De Vega told Arab News. “She has specified that her name should not be divulged, (asking) only that we pray for her and their safety.”

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