14 Pinoys killed in hotel fire in Iraq – PHL Embassy
Fourteen Filipinos were among the 17 people killed in a fire that struck a hotel in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region on Friday evening, a senior Philippine embassy official said.
The information on Filipino fatalities was relayed to the embassy by Kurdistan officials, Elmer Cato, charge d’affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.
“We will be taking the earliest flight tomorrow (Saturday) to allow us to coordinate closely with authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government in identifying and repatriating the remains of our kababayans,” Cato said.
The incident, he said, is now under investigation.
“We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and will do everything we can to bring them home as soon as possible,” Cato said.
Later, the Philippine office in Iraq told GMA News Online that the fire incident was not linked to any terrorist activity.
Cato was quoted as saying, "Grabe ito …We lost more people in one incident in one day compared to the number we lost since the Gulf War. Definitely its not terrorism."
All the Filipino fatalities were female hotel workers, Cato added.
A Reuters report said the cause of fire at the Capitol Hotel was still unknown, but Kurdistan officials said an electrical fault was suspected.
The hotel manager said the fire started at the next door massage parlor.
The Al Jazeera news service, quoting Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi, reported that the Filipino victims worked at the massage center.
The BBC meanwhile reported that three Iraqis and a Palestinian were also killed in the fire.
"We will be taking the next available flight to Erbil to assist in the identification and immediate repatriation of the remains of our kababayans," Cato told GMA News Online.
"Authorities in the Kurdistan Region have assured us of their full support and cooperation," he added.
Cato said he cannot disclose the names of the Filipino fatalities until their next of kin are informed of the incident.
The Philippine government lifted the ban on Kurdistan region in 2012, an autonomous region of Iraq, in response to its growing foreign labor demand.
Except for Kurdistan region, Manila continues to observe a deployment ban to all parts of Iraq because of tension after the withdrawal of American troops in December 2011, more than a decade after an invasion took place, which toppled the regime of late strongman Saddam Hussein.
The Philippines has placed most of Iraq under Alert Level 4, which calls for mandatory repatriation, after the Islamic State captured the city of Mosul in 2014.
Cato clarified that Kurdistan is under Alert Level I.
"A deployment ban is still in place although Filipinos in Kurdistan can avail themselves of the Balik Manggagawa Program that could allow them to go home to the Philippines and return to their jobs in Kurdistan," he said.
"We estimate around 2,000 Filipinos are in Iraq, majority of them in Kurdistan," he added.
The Philippines is among the world's top labor-exporters with about 8.6 million skilled and unskilled workers scattered abroad, earning more than they could in the country where jobs are scarce and poverty is widespread. — BAP/LBG, GMA News