MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has asked Saudi Arabia to go easy on some 1,000 undocumented Filipino workers stranded in Jeddah who are facing imminent arrest and deportation.
At a briefing in Malacañang on Monday, President Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the Philippine government has interceded on behalf of the undocumented workers.
“According to Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, among the rules we have asked the Saudi government to waive are the presentation of the ‘no objection’ certificate required from the employers to expedite the issuance of the exit visas (for the workers),” said Lacierda.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also wants the Saudi government to “waive the fines for losing the “Iqama, or work permit, which is around 1,000 SAR (Saudi riyal)” and to “waive the fines for failure to update the Iqama, which is around 2,000 SAR,” he said.
Lacierda said the Philippine government has committed to help shoulder the repatriation cost of the stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“We have also asked the Saudi government to provide temporary shelters to our citizens in Jeddah,” he said.
In Lucena City, Migrante activists staged a rally at the DFA-Southern Tagalog office to protest the slow repatriation of the undocumented Filipino workers in Jeddah.
Darwin Nazareno, Migrante spokesperson in Southern Tagalog, said that based on the group’s initial list, more than 200 from the region were among some 3,000 campers in Jeddah.
“The figures from Southern Tagalog could be higher. Migrante staff members are still validating the exact figures from different towns in the region,” Nazareno told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He said that one of the workers, Eliseo Araneta, from Calamba City in Laguna, who needed immediate repatriation due to serious kidney failure, died on April 18 in Jeddah.
“Does the government of Mr. Aquino need more deaths before they start the repatriation?” Nazareno said.
Migrante said most of the workers were undocumented, trafficking victims or had run away from abusive employers and harsh working conditions.
Under the noonday sun, around 10 Migrante activists took turns holding up a megaphone and assailing the inaction of the administration, particularly the DFA, on the plight of the Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia.
The activists placed stickers which read “Stranded OFWs Pauwiin! (Bring home the stranded OFWs)” on the metal DFA signs in front of the Metro Pacific mall in Lucena City, where the agency holds office.
“These activists are right. Our government has forgotten the pitiful workers in Saudi,” Mario Lambaste, a tricycle driver, told the Inquirer while watching the protesters from a distance.
Lambaste said he had a brother working in Jeddah who could also be sent home at any time.
Contrary to reports, there are only around 1,000 stranded OFWs in Jeddah, not 3,000, according to Lacierda.
The OFWs picketed the Philippine consulate in Jeddah during the day but returned at nightfall to their “temporary accommodations” provided by their Filipino friends, he said.
“Now, who are these people? These are the people who are undocumented. They can’t go home because they don’t have an exit permit, exit visa,” said Lacierda.