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RP urged to help OFWs facing deportation in EU, Sabah

First Posted 17:42:00 07/01/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Groups representing overseas Filipino workers urged the government on Tuesday to prepare for mass deportations of undocumented Filipinos from Europe and Sabah, Malaysia, which have been planning massive crackdowns against illegal migrants.

Migrante International called the looming mass deportations ?a disaster in the making? for the Arroyo administration as it urged the government to intervene diplomatically on behalf of more than 100,000 undocumented workers in Europe and almost 500,000 in Sabah.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, meanwhile, appealed to Malaysian authorities to ensure humane treatment of thousands of undocumented foreign workers to be deported from Sabah.

The center's founder, Susan Ople, and Migrante's chair Connie Bragas-Regalado asked the Philippine government to launch diplomatic initiatives and prepare a contingency plan for Filipinos who would be deported.

?The impending deportations are, without a shred of doubt, inhumane. It would be criminal for the Arroyo administration to ignore this urgent matter,? Migrante chair Connie Bragas-Regalado told reporters, adding that the host countries could be persuaded to keep the OFWs.

?The best thing the Arroyo administration can do for the thousands of OFWs who face deportation abroad is to push for their regularization [in their jobs], since they contribute heavily, not only to the Philippine economy, but also to their host countries,? Regalado suggested.

Regalado stressed the importance of ensuring the rights of Filipino citizens in the course of Europe and Malaysia?s crackdowns.

Early this month, 27 European Union interior ministers voted to detain overstaying migrants for a maximum of 18 months, and along with their children, they will be forcefully expelled and blacklisted for five years. Meanwhile, the Malaysian federal government ordered a ?revitalized? crackdown to ?flush out? undocumented workers in Sabah on Sunday.

Regalado suggested placing the crackdown in the agenda of the Philippine government in the forthcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development in October.

The Ople Center, meanwhile, expressed concern that the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur lacked the resources and personnel to help Filipinos caught in a revitalized immigration campaign.

?They need the authority and resources to fund a bigger diplomatic team composed of labor, social welfare and consular personnel familiar with Sabah and the ethnic dialects of the Filipinos now living there,? Susan Ople said.

According to the center, the Office of the Philippine Labor Attaché headed by Josephus Jimenez has only five people for an estimated 400,000 Filipinos living and staying in Sabah and 30,000 workers in peninsular Malaysia.

?Under normal times, the embassy is already overstretched in dealing with welfare cases. What more during a massive crackdown that could affect thousands of Filipinos in a province that is miles away from Kuala Lumpur?? Ople asked.

Ople urged the government to take advantage of improved relations between the Philippines and Malaysia in ensuring that violence would not be applied on illegally staying Filipinos during deportation.

?In light of the cordial relations between the Philippines and Malaysia, we wish to appeal to Malaysian and Sabah authorities not to use force in dealing with foreign workers but to coordinate their actions with the embassies concerned to ensure that no one gets hurt or is unfairly treated,? she said.

According to the center, Filipinos from the poorest communities in Mindanao have relocated as plantation workers in Sabah where they are able to earn more. The Philippines has a dormant territorial claim to Sabah and the maritime borders between the Mindanao and Sabah have been porous for centuries.

?We also know of women who have been trafficked to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah's capital) to work as bar girls in pubs frequented by foreigners. The dignity and welfare of these women must be protected as well,? Ople said.

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