MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine officials said Wednesday that they have issued a mandatory evacuation order for more than 1,000 Filipinos in the Libyan capital amid escalating fighting, rocket fire and airstrikes.
The government issued the order after the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli warned that it "could no longer guarantee the safety and security of Filipinos who chose to remain despite repeated appeals for them to go home," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Emmanuel Fernandez said.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said that despite the order, officials cannot force Filipino workers and their dependents to leave. Nevertheless, he appealed to Filipinos in the Libyan capital and outlying regions "to seriously consider repatriation before the situation escalates further."
Locsin "requested the help of families in the Philippines in convincing their loved ones in Tripoli to accept the repatriation offer before it's too late," the department said in a statement issued in Manila.
The evacuation order applies to Filipino workers and their dependents in Tripoli and areas within a 100-kilometer (62-mile) radius of the capital, because of fighting between rival militias for control of the North African nation's capital.
The Philippines is one of the world's major labor providers, with a tenth of its more than 100 million people working abroad, including many house helpers and construction workers. The income they send home has helped the Philippine economy stay afloat in dire economic times.
Manila's top diplomat in Tripoli, Elmer Cato, said many Filipinos, who work as nurses, teachers and personnel in Libya's oil industry, have refused to leave their relatively higher-paying jobs and opted to take the risk because they have to work and provide for their families back home.
Cato told The Associated Press by phone that the government was prompted to issue the mandatory evacuation order after 13 Filipino workers and their dependents, including children, were trapped in an apartment building Monday amid intense fighting in Tripoli's Salahuddin district.
Another Filipino was held overnight by gunmen who broke into his apartment, but was freed unharmed the next day, Cato said. At least two Filipinos have been wounded after several hospitals and residential areas were recently hit by a barrage of mortar fire, he said.
"The fighting in the outskirts of Tripoli will also soon make it difficult for the embassy to respond to urgent requests for assistance from distressed nationals," Cato said.
Amid frequent airstrikes, mostly delivered by drones, diplomats covered a part of the embassy's roof with a huge Philippine flag in hopes that it won't be bombed, Cato said.
Cato said that after volleys of rocket fire hit Tripoli for the first time last month, some Filipinos decided to return home or move to safer areas in Libya with the help of their employers or the Philippine government. The Philippine labor department has also imposed a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya due to the escalating violence.