10,000 more OFWs to be repatriated
As many as 10,000 Filipinos who have overstayed their work permits in Kuwait are expected to apply for repatriation, and the Philippine government is ready to bring them back home, a foreign official said on Monday as the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) imposed a complete ban on the deployment of workers to the oil-rich Arab state.
Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Arriola said the overstaying Filipinos were qualified for repatriation.
She said the Philippine government would shoulder the costs of the migrants’ airfares and penalties for overstaying their visas.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced the complete ban on the deployment of migrant workers to Kuwait after Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III signed the prohibition order.
The DFA estimates that more than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, most as domestic helpers.
Abuse by employers
The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait last month after reports that abuse by employers had driven several migrants to suicide.
President Duterte ordered a complete ban last week after the body of a female Filipino worker was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait City. The body had been in the freezer for a year, according to Kuwaiti police.
The DFA said on Monday that it had conveyed to Kuwait Ambassador to Manila Saleh Ahmad Althwaik the Philippines’ “strongest protest” against abuse suffered by Filipino workers at the hands of Kuwaiti employers and the failure of Kuwaiti authorities to protect Filipinos in the Gulf state.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said he and Bello would strictly enforce the President’s order banning the deployment of workers to Kuwait.
Cayetano said the DFA had pressed the government of Kuwait to look into the complaints about abuses committed against Filipino workers and asked Kuwaiti authorities to fully cooperate with the Philippine Embassy there for the conclusion of a labor agreement that would protect the rights of Filipino domestic workers there.
Visit to Kuwait in doubt
“Our efforts to protect our [countrymen] will not end with the imposition of deployment bans or the repatriation of our workers in countries where they are prone to maltreatment,” Cayetano said.
He said the government would also go after illegal recruiters and human traffickers.
The ban has put President Duterte’s planned visit to Kuwait in doubt.
“I do not even know if that will push through,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters. “I do not know. That’s under consideration now.”
Malacañang said last week that Mr. Duterte would travel to Kuwait to see for himself the situation of Filipino migrant workers there.
But Monday’s development, forced by the death of the worker found in the freezer, Joanna Demafelis, indicated strain in relations between the two countries.
“The ban is for all deployment of workers to Kuwait. As to the need for justice, we will hold Kuwait responsible under the concept of state responsibility,” Roque said.
“Kuwait, under international law, has a legal obligation to provide legal redress for the victims, Filipino victims of these horrendous crimes in Kuwait,” he said.
“And, of course, if Kuwait fails in this regard, then it will incur international responsibility for an internationally wrongful act,” he added.
Last month, Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled al-Jarallah, expressed “surprise and sorrow” at Mr. Duterte’s decision to suspend labor traffic to Kuwait.
He said legal proceedings had been taken in the cases of four suicide cases mentioned by Mr. Duterte.
Why did she die?
Why Demafelis died remains unclear.
Her family said she was deployed to Kuwait in 2014 and she called them only twice or thrice a year. But in November 2016, they lost contact with her.
Jessica Demafelis, a sister of the migrant, said the family asked help from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) in locating Joanna, but got no response other than being asked to provide personal information about her.
Bello on Monday ordered an investigation of the family’s complaint, including inaction by Philippine labor and welfare officers in Kuwait.
He said that if the complaint proved true, he would immediately recall the concerned personnel from Kuwait.
Twenty-four migrant workers returned from Kuwait on Sunday, followed by 377 on Monday. All came home on commercial flights.
Four hundred more will arrive in Manila on Tuesday, Bello said.
The DFA said the migrants being repatriated were overstaying workers who had accepted amnesty arranged by the Philippine government with the government of Kuwait last month.
Earlier, Bello said the government would help the returning migrant look for new jobs.
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