‘How do we convince OFWs to return home?’
MANILA, Philippines — As government persuade thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle east to return home, lawmakers had one recurrent question: how do we convince them to return home?
At the hearing of the House committee on overseas workers affairs, committee chair TUCP party list Rep. Raymond Mendoza grilled Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III on the government’s plans for the OFWs who would be leaving behind their jobs abroad.
Mendoza posed the question after Special Envoy to Middle East Roy Cimatu told the committee that that he had received reports that the situation in Baghdad in Iraq is “deteriorating,” highlighting the need for the immediate repatriation of OFWs there.
“How do we now bring them home kung ayaw nila (if they do not want to)? How do we entice them to get out of that country considering there is already war?” said Mendoza.
Bello III claimed returning OFWs may find re-employment in under various government programs, such as the Build, Build, Build program. Bello said the DOLE is also looking into re-deployment of OFWs to other “alternative markets” such as Canada, Russia, Germany, and China should an OFW wish to be re-deployed overseas.
Livelihood assistance and scholarship grants for their immediate family also await returning OFWs, he said.
“We just have to convince them either personally or through their families. The idea of a re-deployment would be a good motivation for them to consider repatriation,” he said.
Bello said the priority of the government is to be able to provide jobs for Filipinos here.
“The final call of our President is to bring them (OFWs) all back. That is the real vision of our President—that is why we have this Build, Build, Build infrastructure programs so that there are job opportunities,” the labor secretary said in Filipino and English.
But for several House lawmakers, a specific and concrete plan is needed to convince Filipinos to return home.
“Do we have a real plan for them to get a real job? Otherwise, we’re stuck. The cash grants et cetera do not entice them to come home. It is actually jobs,” Mendoza said.
Bello said that in the case of 15 OFWs who returned home from Iraq, they will be profiled as soon as possible and the government will assist them in finding alternative employment for them.
Refuse to return home
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered the military to prepare its air and naval assets for the possible repatriation of OFWs in the Middle East after the U.S. launched an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani.
The Philippine government had repeatedly said that it is ready to repatriate Filipinos in the Middle East amid the crisis in the region.
DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said Alert Level 4 is currently raised over several countries in the Middle East such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
If Alert Level 4 is raised over a country, the Philippine government orders the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos.
Despite this, Arriola said some OFWs insist on staying, saying jobs are not available for them in the Philippines.
For instance in Iraq, only 15 of the 1,640 Filipinos there have opted to return home amid the crisis.
“They (OFWs) are saying that they have no jobs here but the mandatory repatriation is like we’re just making ourselves available to any Filipino who wants to return because we cannot also force them to leave the country,” Arriola said.
“But our instructions from [Foreign] Secretary [Teodoro] Locsin is never to leave the post so long as there’s one Filipino in the ground so we will stay in our post,” she added.
Arriola said there are 2.2 million Filipinos who are working or residing in the Middle East—of whom 2 million are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait.
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