KUWAIT CITY, Feb 20: Six hundred ten undocumented Filipinos including 43 undocumented Filipino kids were repatriated to the Philippines on Tuesday under the Kuwait Amnesty Program. The repatriates were split into two groups and flown on two separate “mercy flights” – 430 on board the Cebu Pacific Air and 180 via Philippine Airlines.
The two airlines provided free flights to the undocumented Filipinos in response to the appeal of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to bring home the distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Kuwait.
The Philippine Embassy has been rushing this week to repatriate all those who applied for amnesty to beat the February 22 deadline and much to its surprise, the Kuwait Ministry of Interior has extended the amnesty to two months, until April 22, 2018. “We welcome this new development and we would like to thank Kuwait most especially His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for his kindness. We have submitted our request for extension along with other embassies of labour-sending countries and we are very grateful that our request was granted,” stated Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa.
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.
On board 13 buses, the undocumented Filipinos were ferried to the airport accompanied by the embassy and Philippine Overseas Labour Office Staff as well as the Augmentation teams sent by the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Rapid Response Team from the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of the Undersecretary of Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) from Manila to assist in the repatriation of OFWs during the amnesty.
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.
As of Feb 18, the Philippine Embassy has issued 3,683 travel documents and out of which, 2,266 were issued exit clearance by the Kuwait Ministry of Interior. “Once again, we are urging all undocumented Filipinos to please go home and take advantage of the amnesty extension. The Philippine government will be giving you free air tickets,” stated Lomondot.
Currently, there are around 250,000 documented OFWs and 165,000 of them are working as household service workers. Meanwhile, Ambassador Villa confirmed the recall of Philippine Labour Attache to Kuwait Alejandro Padaen and Assistant Labour Attache Lily Pearl Guerrero by the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) following the recall of Welfare Officer Sarah Concepcion earlier this week.
DOLE has ordered the removal of Concepcion in Kuwait after failing to respond to a request for assistance sought when a Filipina worker, Joanna Daniela Demafelis disappeared, only to eventually be found dead in a freezer. The deployment ban on newly hired Filipino skilled and household workers bound for Kuwait stays as ordered by President Duterte On the other hand, Villa also confirmed that the embassy received from Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday an invitation from HH the Amir to President Duterte to visit Kuwait and the DFA in Manila also received a copy, however, he clarified that the Philippine Embassy is still awaiting a reply from the President’s office as of press time. “There is no confirmation or reply yet from Malacanang with regard to Kuwait’s invitation to President Duterte,” stressed Villa.
Meanwhile, skilled Filipino workers met with their country’s labor officials Tuesday to appeal for exemption from the total deployment ban to Kuwait. According to the Coalition of Licensed Agencies for Domestic and Service Workers (CLADS) said about 10,000 Kuwait-bound skilled workers were affected by the ban following which the workers pleaded the deployment of first-time OFWs to Kuwait should be limited to household workers who they say are the most vulnerable to abuse. Most of these workers hold visas that are nearing expiration date or have employers waiting for them.
However, seafarers who will transit through or board in Kuwait to join their principals are also exempted. However, despite pleas from the workers, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials remained firm that they will maintain the ban until all Filipino workers in Kuwait are assured of protection.
In the meantime, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has asked for patience until a memorandum of understanding (MoU) is signed with the Kuwaiti government that will give extra protection to all Filipino workers. “It’s not easy to be sending you there and I’m not sure of your security, I’m not sure that you will be safe there. You are my responsibility,” Bello said.
One of the provisions under the MoU forbids employers from holding the passport of their Filipino employees. Though the signing of the MOU will not guarantee the removal of the ban, it may pave the way for smoother labor relations between Kuwait and the Philippines.
However, Bello went on to say he is not aware of any deal between Kuwait and the Philippine government to supposedly regulate the employment of OFWs in Kuwait. In the meantime, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said the ban on the overseas deployment of Filipinos may also be imposed on other countries. “The ban will continue and it will extend to other countries,” Duterte said Monday.
However, Duterte has not named the countries where he is planning the non-deployment of Filipinos. In a press briefing Tuesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he has no idea which countries the President was referring to. The President also appealed to other countries hosting Filipino workers to ensure they are treated humanely. “The only thing… that we ask is that you give us the dignity of a human being, you treat us humanely, be tolerant of our cultural differences and do not abuse our women because it will inflict a long and lasting wound. Maybe this generation cannot and will not forget it,” Duterte said. “That is why, I’m addressing myself, not only to Kuwait but to the entire nations in the world to say that Filipinos are everywhere seeking livelihood, can I please plead to you? Please do not degrade them like animals, do not treat them as a slave,” said the President.
By Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies