MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government temporarily suspended the deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar on Tuesday, fearing food riots and other potential problems amid the diplomatic crisis gripping the tiny Gulf nation, the labor secretary said.
Silvestre Bello said there was no plan yet to repatriate the more than 200,000 Filipino workers in Qatar.
"If anything happens and they run out of food and food riots take place, definitely our OFWs will be the first victims," Bello said, using the acronym for overseas Filipino workers. "We need to adopt preparatory measures to meet the possible exigency."
Filipino officials and recruitment agencies have been asked to ensure that Filipino workers in Qatar are safe and have adequate food stocks.
The Philippines is a major labor supplier, with about a tenth of more than 100 million Filipinos working abroad because of inadequate jobs and other opportunities at home.
Saudi Arabia and three other Arab powers severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday and moved to isolate it, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and backing Iran. Qatar has long denied supporting militant groups.
Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, through which the international travel hub imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met in April with King Salman in Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos work as nurses, domestic helpers, drivers, waiters and technicians. Duterte's visit was aimed at boosting Saudi investments in the Philippines and strengthening ties with the Middle East heavyweight.
He also visited Qatar and Bahrain during the trip. The region is home to the largest group of Filipinos working overseas. More than 1 million Filipinos reside and work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.