MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday sent its top official on migrant workers affairs to meet with Saudi Arabia officials in a bid to expedite repatriation of more than 1,000 undocumented Filipinos still camped outside the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah.
The foreign office is also preparing to move the Filipinos into shelters inside the Jeddah consulate and other facilities within the city to provide them with better accommodations while processing their return home, DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said in a briefing Wednesday.
Hernandez said Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Jesus Yabes flew to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and is set to meet with Saudi officials to discuss the situation outside the Philippine mission in Jeddah, where undocumented Filipinos have been camping out in tents for the last two weeks for fear of being arrested.
The Saudi government recently initiated a campaign against illegal workers, prompting undocumented Filipinos to seek shelter at the Jeddah Consulate.
“We have already sent Usec. Yabes to Saudi Arabia to see how we could expedite the repatriation,” said Hernandez.
He said the government was “very much committed” to bringing the Filipinos back home but admitted that the situation was “tricky and very challenging,” given the requirements of Saudi law.
Before they could be repatriated, the Filipino workers are required to first pay fines for expired residency permits, hence overstaying, settle fines for violating Saudi labor law, and secure a no-objection certificate (NOC), a document that an employer issues to a worker upon termination of his contract.
The NOC is required for exit and changing jobs and serves as as a clearance proving that an employee has no pending obligations with his employer.
The Philippines requested the Saudi government to waive exit visa requirements for the Filipinos earlier this week and the DFA is still awaiting the latter’s response, Hernandez said.
“This government is very much committed to helping our people. We have time and time again been doing that. Nobody should doubt that commitment. But there is a process we have to follow,” Hernandez told reporters.
“Even if we’re ready to give them an air ticket and to later on pay for their penalties as much as we can, what is very important is to be able to still follow the procedure and that means we have to get a no objection certificate, pay the fines, unless all these are waived,” said Hernandez.
For the meantime, the DFA is preparing facilities where the undocumented Filipinos could be moved while awaiting repatriation.
Some 300 women and children in the group are expected to be moved to a shelter inside the Jeddah consulate within the week, Hernandez said
The DFA is also looking at possibly using a housing compound offered by a Saudi businessman and a school gymnasium within the city as shelter for the Filipinos.
Hernandez said the consulate has also distributed food, water, medical assistance, mosquito nets, insect sprays and blankets to the Filipinos.