|People read, hear and watch stories on media of domestic workers of various nationalities who suffer maltreatment in the hands of their employers, running away from their employers daily to seek refuge somewhere else who more often end up on the doorsteps of their respective embassies. They seek shelter that will keep them safe, away from their abusers. A shelter that heals, educates and empowers them after the traumatic experience that they have been through.|
Everyday, distressed Filipino women run to the Philippine Embassy shelter in Hateen for safety, seeking, food, clothing, care, compassion and justice for the various forms of abuses that they had to deal with at their workplace.
Philippine Vice-Consul Atty Shiena Tesorero, in this interview, provides an overview on how the Shelter in Hateen operates, its services, how it helps distressed Filipino women who are awaiting repatriation to their home country, the challenges that the wards have to face and how the shelter empowers these abused women to regain their self-esteem and rise above the challenges that they are in and how the Kuwaiti government has been helpful in their repatriation to the Philippines.
Question: Why was the Embassy Shelter in Hateen established?
Answer: The Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Shelter of the Embassy of the Philippines in Kuwait opened on May 13, 2014 to address the increasing number of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly those in the household service sector, who are victims of maltreatment, rape, and other forms of abuse. Complex cases such as those aforementioned require a holistic response that goes beyond labor mediation and repatriation. In these cases, the Embassy focuses not only in redressing the grievance or pursuing justice for the victim but also ensuring a sound recovery process that will aid in the person’s reintegration in the Philippines.
Q: What is the difference between the Shelter in Hateen and the POLO Shelter in Faiha?
A: The Shelter in Faiha is under the Philippine Overseas Labor Office. The clients are mostly those with labor and administrative concerns such as unpaid salary claims or retrieval of passport from the employer. On the other hand, the ATN Shelter’s clients are those who filed criminal cases against their abusive employers or who have been subjected to the Kuwait Government’s legal processes due to the filing of pre-emptive or retaliatory criminal charges (a common example is theft) against them by their abusers. As such, the repatriation process of those in the ATN Shelter generally takes longer than their counterparts in the POLO Shelter, more so if the person has a travel ban.
Q: What are the facilities in the Shelter?
A: Currently, the Shelter has a 50-bed capacity but there are plans to expand its capacity to accommodate more clients. Aside from the resident’s living quarters, there are shared kitchen, dining, and laundry areas, a library (with at least 600 books and reading materials) that also functions as a play area for children and activity room for adult residents, a multi-purpose room, and a roof deck for recreation purposes. The Shelter also houses the Social Welfare Attaché’s Office, which provides counseling and other psycho-social services.
Q: How many wards are in the Shelter in Hateen right now?
A: Currently, there are over a hundred residents in the ATN Shelter, most of whom are awaiting their repatriation to the Philippines. Some have opted to wait for the resolution of their legal cases. Others are recuperating from their medical conditions so they can secure airline clearances for their repatriation.
Q: At an average, how many distressed OFWs seek refuge at the Embassy Shelter daily?
A: About 2-3 clients are admitted daily.
Q: What are the most common cases of abuses that the wards at the Shelter have experienced from their employers?
A: The most common case is maltreatment, which ranges from slight to severe maltreatment and which could be an isolated incident or prolonged abuse. Some clients also suffered rape or other sexual abuses.
Q: The moment a distressed OFW steps into the Embassy Shelter, what do you do? Do they have to undergo some debriefing?
A: A distressed OFW is immediately processed by an ATN staff. The processing includes a brief interview, data gathering, and documentation. The staff will determine the immediate physical needs of the client and arrange for provisions. For example, if the client is fatigued or physically/mentally drained, the staff will arrange a brief rest for the client. If the client is hungry due to prolonged food deprivation, the staff will arrange for a meal. In the case of physically abused clients, the staff will immediately arrange a medical examination of the client. For sexually abused workers, the staff will immediately refer the client to a case coordinator for the filing of a complaint against the perpetrator and for forensic examination.
Q: Do you offer some counseling to the wards? How do you go about it?
A: Yes, counseling and other pyscho-social interventions are part of the healing and recovery process. These services are provided and administered by the Social Welfare Attaché. The Shelter house parents and other ATN staff also provide moral support and encouragement for the distressed residents of the Shelter and make themselves available to listen to those who wish to talk or thresh personal issues out with someone.
Q: How do you handle some wards with psychological problems due to their traumatic experience? What steps do you take? Do you seek professional help?
A: Shelter residents who have difficulty coping after a traumatic experience and manifest strange or erratic behaviors, depression, suicidal outlook, and other similar behaviors or tendencies are given priority by the Social Welfare Attaché. Short-term interventions are applied on a case by case basis. In some cases, a resident would benefit from a temporary relocation to a quieter room, dietary changes, increased interactions with other residents, or frequent communication with family or relatives. For serious cases, the concerned resident is usually referred to the Psychiatric Hospital, for examination and treatment.
Q: How do you make the stay of the wards in the Shelter comfortable?
A: By ensuring that the Shelter remains to be an open, inclusive, and empowering environment for the residents where they can voice out their needs and concerns without reservations and where they are treated with dignity and respect. The greatest challenge in this kind of operation is to prevent and avoid the traps and pitfalls of subordination and victimization. To address this, the client-centered approach has been adopted as the core principle in client management and operation. This means that in the Shelter, each resident is treated as an individual with dignity, deserving of the highest respect and unconditional positive consideration. This approach cascades into all aspects of the operation including interactions among the residents, between staff and residents, between residents and other stakeholders, implementation of Shelter programs, projects, and activities, formulation of Shelter rules and regulations, discipline, and so on.
Q: Do you assign specific tasks to the wards while they are in the Shelter to keep them busy?
A: Yes. The residents are responsible for ensuring the cleanliness and orderliness of the Shelter as they would their own homes. They cook their own food and wash their own laundry. On a voluntary basis, they may enlist to help the house parents in the inventory and purchase of groceries and supplies, caregiving for children and sick residents, and so on. The routine and productive occupation give the residents a sense of normalcy and somehow, aid in their healing and recovery. Having something to do on a daily basis helps them feel useful and relevant and gives them a sense of inclusion in their current environment.
Q: While inside the Shelter, can they communicate with the people outside like their friends or relatives? Can they accept visitors at the Shelter?
A: Absolutely. Frequent communication with family, relatives, and friends is allowed and encouraged. That is why the residents have regular access to their mobile phones. Those without phones are allowed limited use of the Embassy’s IDD phone. Visitors are allowed on designated visitation days and hours.
Q: To those who have experienced grave physical or sexual abuse, what kind of interventions do you do?
A: The ATN Unit provides legal assistance and the Social Welfare Attaché conducts counseling and debriefing sessions, including individual and focused group discussions for severely abused workers. A support group helps a lot. Other therapy sessions include art and music therapy, writing, prayer and bible study sessions, social activities such as fellowship, movie or videoke sessions, sports or exercise (badminton/table tennis/Zumba/yoga), and to a limited extent, outdoor recreation.
Q: During your stint, what’s the most difficult case that you have handled? How did you manage the case?
A: Every case is challenging on its own merit. But the really difficult ones are those cases so complex or the sui generis cases. Somehow, the pursuit of a resolution and alternatives always takes us back to the beginning. Then, we start again. The key is to keep moving, keep exhausting available alternatives, and always be alert for untapped opportunities. For example, we have a complex case of illegal entry of a blacklisted person plus trafficking in person plus maltreatment plus labor violations. The client is still with us. She has been in the Shelter since it opened for occupancy on May 13, 2014. Before that, she was in our office in Faiha and had been there for some time. The solution in sight is for her to serve detention time prior to repatriation but under the TIP convention and protocols, she is a TIP victim and should not be imprisoned. The perpetrator (another Filipino) was never prosecuted. The client insists on a no detention repatriation, which is just fair. It becomes an eternal loop but we never give up in resolving these kinds of cases.
Q: What kind of legal assistance does the Shelter provide to the wards, if any?
A: The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA) provides the legal assistance. This includes the services of a lawyer and funds for legal fees.
Q: How long do the wards usually stay in the Shelter before they are finally repatriated to the Philippines?
A: It depends on the case. Some residents stay for a few days. Others take longer, even more than a year. This is particularly true for those with travel ban.
Q: Were there cases that the wards stayed for a year or more in the center? Why? How do you deal with these cases?
A: Yes. There are a few cases. We make the cases of long-stay residents a priority.
Q: During their stay in the center, does the Embassy introduce some livelihood training programs for them?
A: Yes, we conduct regular trainings in collaboration with Filipino organizations. We’ve had food processing, cooking and baking, hair styling and make-up, accessories and jewelry making, and other crafts. The residents really appreciate these trainings. Those who were repatriated to the Philippines have been able to use the skills they acquired out of these trainings and turned them into productive pursuits. Our Social Welfare Attaché gives referrals for livelihood assistance to those who have completed the trainings. We hope for more success stories.
Q: What does the shelter do so that the wards regain their self-esteem, confidence in a way empowering them?
A: The open, inclusive, and empowering environment is conducive to the recovery and strengthening of the self-esteem and confidence of the wards. This positive environment is reinforced by way of programs and activities anchored on the client-centered approach. We have a health and wellness program and skills training for the residents. We have weekly worship and fellowship at the Shelter. We are open to social activities by Filipino organizations on weekends.The regular counseling and debriefing sessions also help tremendously.
Q: Aside from the existing programs, what new programs do you think should be implemented in the Shelter to benefit the wards while awaiting repatriation?
A: The residents can greatly benefit from a stronger skills and livelihood training program, Shelter partnership with a learning institution for continuing education or learning augmentation, financial education, an actual profit-oriented livelihood project that could empower them economically and mitigate their domestic concerns, and/or other similar programs or projects.
Q: How helpful is the current Assisted Voluntary Repatriation Program (AVRP) in the repatriation of wards to the Philippines?
A: It is highly beneficial because it streamlined the repatriation process and the no detention scheme gives our residents a dignified exit out of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti government has been very helpful.
Q: In brief, how can these abuses against OFWs most especially HSWs be prevented?
A: The solution is in the Philippines. In the long term, we should have more jobs, more support for MSMEs (Medium to Small Medium Enterprises), and more educational opportunities back home. For now, what would greatly improve the conditions of the vulnerable OFWs (e.g. HSWs) would be sufficient preparedness in terms of knowledge and skills for the challenges of overseas employment coupled with adequate and mainstream legal and social protection both by the sending and receiving states.
Q: As a diplomat, what’s your greatest learning experience while overseeing the Shelter?
A: The totality of the experience has been humbling and rewarding. It taught me a great lesson in the permanent and the transitory. Every day at the Shelter makes me realize how change, when it charges at a life, can turn a world upside down without apologies and how transitory everything is. I have also witnessed the responses to this ephemeral state of things by way of a more permanent force and which I personally believe to have greater weight – the force of faith, strength, love, forgiveness. To witness someone who has been raped and brutally abused extend a hand of forgiveness and compassion to her perpetrator, as easily as lifting a finger, is life changing. And at the Shelter, it’s an ordinary miracle happening every day.
Atty ShienaTesorero is currently the Third Secretary and Vice Consul of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait. She arrived in Kuwait on April 30, 2014 and was appointed as the Head of the Assistance to Nationals Unit (ATNU) at the Embassy up to October 4, 2015 to oversee the Shelter in Hateen and handle cases of distressed OFWs. Before her assignment here, she was posted as Third Secretary and Vice Consul, Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, DC,from 2012 to 2014. She requested to be cross-posted to Kuwait to be able to extend her services to distressed Overseas Filipino Workers. She worked asPrincipal Assistant to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 2009-2012 and Legal Officer, Department of Social Welfare and Development, 2007-2009 in the Philippines.
* She finished a degree in AB Speech Communication (cum laude), University of the Philippines, Diliman
* Passed the Philippine Bar Exam in 2006
* Passed the Philippine Foreign Service exam in 2009
By Michelle Fe Santiago
Arab Times Staff