BEIRUT, Feb 24, (Agencies): The employers of a Filipina maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait were both arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus, a Lebanese judicial official said on Saturday. Syrian authorities surrendered Nader Essam Assaf to Beirut on Friday because of his Lebanese citizenship but his Syrian wife Mona remains in custody in Damascus, the official said.
The murder of Joanna Demafelis sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait.
The 29-year-old’s body, which allegedly showed signs of torture, was found earlier this month inside a freezer in the abandoned apartment unit of the detained couple.
The couple have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt since Demafelis’ body was found more than a year after her family reported her missing. “The couple were arrested in Damascus. They were the subject of an Interpol red notice and the Syrian authorities handed the husband over to Lebanese custody on Friday morning,” the official said. “Syria kept custody of the wife because she is a Syrian national,” he added.
“Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on the husband’s police record.” The official said that after leaving Kuwait, the couple had made a very brief stopover in Lebanon before travelling on to neighbouring Syria.
Duterte has vowed to bring justice to Demafelis’ family, lashing out at the Gulf state and alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in the emirate.
Duterte this week sent a team of labour officials to Kuwait to seek greater protection for migrant workers.
A one-minute video, which was posted on Facebook went viral within minutes and helped the Philippine Embassy to ‘rescue’ a distressed overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Kuwait.
The video was posted on Jan 18, 2018 by one of the users showed Yvonne Baal, 29, asking for help because her employer was accusing her of stealing jewelry. The post had 1.6 million views and more than 64,000 shares.
The distressed Filipino worker said she was supposed to have finished her contract on Feb 13 this year but her employer was allegedly reluctant to let her go because of the impending completion of her contract and was making stories.
The household worker said her employer threatened to have her arrested by Kuwaiti police for stealing jewelry. The OFW had given her exact address where she is working and this helped the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait to locate her.
The distressed worker reportedly communicated with her elder sister in the Philippines through private messenger and received assurance that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait had located her and her employer had already agreed to let her go on Feb 28.
She was located two days after the Philippine Embassy staff saw the video on Facebook. In the meantime, the President Duterte has again asserted on Thursday he will extend the ban on sending workers to Kuwait to other countries if investigations show Filipinos were victims of abuse by their employers.
The ban was slapped on Kuwait in January after the body of one of the workers was found in a deep freezer bearing marks of torture. “We are doing an audit now (to) find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation,” Duterte said in the central province of Iloilo. In the meantime, Kuwait has sought to mend diplomatic ties by inviting Duterte to visit, according to KUNA. The Philippine labor ministry wants Kuwait to be able to assure safety of Filipinos before the ban can be lifted. Duterte said a list of both reported and unreported cases of mistreatment of Filipino migrant workers would be prepared, which he described as “a long, long task”, without mentioning any timetable. He added he does not speculate on the countries to which the worker ban can be extended, saying the longterm aim is to slow the exodus abroad by boosting the domestic economy and creating jobs that provide workers with sufficient income.