OVER 2,200 FILIPINOS WANT TO LEAVE – Kuwait firmly denies ‘push’; 400 fly home

Filipinos enroute to their country queue at the check-in area – Photo by Michelle Fe Santiago (Arab Times)

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 11: The Ministry of Interior (MoI) on Sunday categorically denied social media reports claiming that security personnel escorted Filipino domestic helpers against their will from citizens’ houses.

The MoI emphatically denied the claims that the security forces handed the housekeepers to the Filipino embassy in the country. These reports are totally false and groundless, the ministry said in a statement. Kuwaiti authorities deal with all communities in Kuwait with respect and appreciation and treat them equally, it said.

More than 2,200 Filipinos are ready to take up President Duterte’s offer to repatriate workers from Kuwait due to reports of abuse, the Philippine labour minister said on Sunday. Duterte asked Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific on Friday to provide flights for Filipinos who want to leave Kuwait, after the body of a Filipino worker was found in a freezer of an abandoned apartment. “We have been informed that as of Friday there were 2,200- plus Filipinos who are willing to go home,” Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III told Reuters, adding that some of them had overstayed their visas and applied for an amnesty. The airlines have arranged free charter flights, and Bello said almost 500 Filipino workers were due to arrive soon.

The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait in January after reports that abuse by employers had driven several to suicide. Duterte said on Friday that suspension would remain indefinitely. Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah expressed “surprise and sorrow” at Duterte’s remarks in January, saying that legal proceedings had been taken in the cases of the four suicide cases mentioned by the president.

More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The government would help repatriated workers look for jobs, Bello said. “We are into a re-integration programme, we have a programme in place for them,” he told the ANC news channel. “They will be given a livelihood.” “We are now in the process of looking for alternative markets. One of them is China and even Russia,” he said, without elaborating.

400 repatriated
Four hundred undocumented Filipinos including 13 undocumented Filipino kids were repatriated to the Philippines on Sunday under the Kuwait Amnesty Program. The first batch was split into two groups and flown on two separate flights, 260 on board the Philippine Airlines and 140 via Gulf Air.

They were set to arrive in the Philippines on Monday. Most of the undocumented Filipinos worked as Household Service Workers (HSWs) who left their employers after experiencing various forms of maltreatment such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, non-payment of salaries, lack of food and overwork.

The Ministry of Interior issued on Jan 23, 2018 a ministerial Decision No. 64/2018 stipulating regulations for expatriates, whose residency applications were rejected or those with expired residency permits, to rectify their status or leave the country.

The amnesty period runs from Jan 29, 2018 to Feb 22, 2018. “We would like to thank the Kuwait government particularly the Ministry of Interior for expediting the processing of all travel documents and exit clearances,” stated Philippine Consul General Noordin Pendosina Lomondot who heads the Philippine Embassy’s Assistance to Nationals Unit under the leadership of Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa.

On board nine buses, the undocumented Filipinos were ferried to the airport accompanied by the embassy and Philippine Overseas Labour Office Staff as well as the Augmentation team sent by the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) from Manila to assist in the repatriation of OFWs during the amnesty. All air tickets were shouldered by the Philippine government.

There are around 10,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Kuwait based on the records of the Ministry of Interior and the embassy is targeting to repatriate at least 7,000 undocumented OFWs. “Once again, we are urging all undocumented Filipinos to please go home and take advantage of the amnesty. The Philippine government will be giving them free air tickets,” stated Lomondot.

Meanwhile, in light of the recent announcement of Duterte on Friday to bring home all Filipinos who want to go home in 72 hours, the number of distressed Filipino Household Service Workers seeking refuge at POLOOWWA shelter in Al Siddique area has increased significantly. “Before the amnesty, around five to seven distressed HSWs run to the shelter daily then during the amnesty around 15 to 20 daily and just today, more than 60 came to the shelter following the announcement of the President,” disclosed Philippine Labour Attache Alejandro Padaen to the Arab Times on Sunday.

There are more than 300 wards now at the POLO-OWWA shelter who all want to go home. President Duterte earlier announced that the Philippine government will send a chartered flight to Kuwait to bring home all those who want to go home following the discovery of a body of Filipina inside a freezer by Kuwaiti authorities. The victim worked as a housemaid for a Lebanese employer and his Syrian wife.

The Interpol has launched a manhunt to arrest the suspects who fled Kuwait in November 2016. Duterte threatened to imposed a total deployment ban following the incident. Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III is set to announce on Monday a ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait. “We advise Filipinos in Kuwait to postpone their upcoming vacation not until there’s a clear directive from Manila regarding the deployment ban,” stated Ambassador Villa who disclosed to the Arab Times that the Embassy and POLO are also waiting for the official directive from Manila.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is keen on finding plausible solutions to the ban of Filipino workers. This came after the Duterte issued a decision banning the deployment of Filipino workers to the country due to maltreatment by employers. Al-Arabiya English reported on its website Sunday that a local newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as saying the government of the Philippines still expressed dissatisfaction even if the local authorities have submitted criminal reports on seven cases of violence and murders of Filipinos in the country.

These sources also stressed the need to solve the issue in a diplomatic manner rather than resorting to the media. Commenting on the latest incident — the discovery of the body of a Filipina inside a freezer, sources said the investigation is still ongoing. They argued the incident should not be attributed to Kuwait considering those suspected of committing the crime are expatriates.

They also stressed that the laws of the country guarantee protection of the rights of all workers. On the other hand, rappler.com — a news website in the Philippines — reported Sunday that Vice President Leni Robredo called for signing an agreement with Kuwait to protect Filipino workers while affirming support for the deployment ban. According to the report, Robredo said in her weekly radio show on RMN dzXL, “I think the President’s decision is right. It’s a very strong statement on the violence that’s been happening.” Also, Administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Hans Cacdac confirmed during the show that they sent a draft bilateral agreement for the protection of Filipino workers to Kuwait. Indicating that she is hoping for the signing of the agreement during Duterte’s visit to Kuwait, Robredo emphasized the need to guarantee protection of the remaining Filipino workers. “I hope Duterte’s visit would put pressure on Kuwait to sign the deal. Because the reality is, the Filipinos who are there and who aren’t being abused don’t want to come back home because they’re thinking about their employment. So we have to make sure that those who remain are protected,” Robredo added.

Furthermore, GMA News disclosed that 25 Filipino workers arrived from Kuwait on Sunday and this is the fourth batch of workers who have been returning home in the midst of the deployment ban.

Major topic
Suddenly, the issue of Filipino workers in Kuwait has become a major topic attracting traffic of comments and interest after the of Duterte issued the controversial statement threatening to ban the recruitment of workers from his country after he suspended the recruitment process, reports Al-Anba daily.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not relent on its efforts to cooperate with concerned authorities in clarifying the truth, assuring the workers of dignified treatment. Although, some cases of injustice and abuse have been reported, they’re at individual levels and investigations are underway for redress, the daily said.

The case is yet to die down; hence some Filipinas who volunteered responses attested to this submission. Alma Rosanna Karika said she worked in various Arab and foreign countries before coming to Kuwait where she has been working since 2009 — nine years by calculation. She specializes in receiving complaints and offering assistant to Filipina workers in Kuwait, which gives her the opportunity to deal with hundreds of cases each month.

In those numerous cases, Alma said she did not record many incidents of rape and kidnap of Filipinos in Kuwait compared to other countries where she previously worked. She concluded, “If I were to advise my fellow countrymen seeking greener pastures, Kuwait would be on top of the list”. She stressed the statement issued by our president is a bit of extreme, although it’s true there are many areas that call for improvement, which the concerned authorities should consider.

In her comment, another Filipino Alexis Lagitan said she has been working in Kuwait for almost 27 years and feels happy here. She said her visit to the newspaper was out of her own volition to express gratitude on behalf of her people and herself. She wanted people to put a stop to rumors claiming that Filipinas are abused in Kuwait, because “Kuwait has been kind to my family and me, so it is my second home. I have been married in this country where I live with my family, and I owe this happy matrimony to the people of Kuwait.”

Another respondent simply known as Lyn indicated she has been working in Kuwait for 14 years and feels comfortable being a resident here. She stated that residing in Kuwait helps her to guarantee the future of her children by seeing them toward attaining tertiary education, something she never had. She affirmed volunteering to visit the newspaper to dispel rumor concerning rape and abuse of Filipino workers in Kuwait. She observed that cases of rape and abduction of domestic workers happen in every country across the world, including the Philippines. “In fact the rate of rape and abuses in Kuwait is low compared to several other countries. Although I don’t support the statement issued by President Duterte, I can still understand his intention …. that’s his own way of dealing with problems and he likes to use such harsh words,” she reiterated.

By Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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