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150 Filipinas jailed in Dubai for ‘moonlighting’

First Posted 17:54:00 01/13/2011

MANILA, Philippines?Some 150 Filipina workers have been languishing in a Dubai prison cell since last month for working part-time at a wedding reception in violation of the United Arab Emirates' immigration laws.

The women were arrested while serving as part of the support and catering staff during the reception held at the Dubai World Trade Center on December 10, an overseas Filipino worker, who witnessed their plight firsthand, said Thursday.

?Their families have to be informed about what happened to them. But the problem is they're incommunicado, and the Philippine authorities don't have access to them,? said Nerissa, who asked that her surname be withheld.

Nerissa had been detained for a week on a separate absconding charge, and met the other Filipinas in a large cell that accommodated 200 women prisoners. Upon her release on January 11, she promised the other Filipinas to give word about their case to the Philippine authorities.

?It's not that the (Philippine) government doesn't want to help them, but the officials can't reach them,? Nerissa said in an interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

On December 23, the Dubai-based newspaper The National reported that originally160 Filipinas and an Indonesian woman had been arrested but 10 of the Filipinas who were on their husband's visas were later released.

The paper quoted Benito Valeriano, the Philippine consul general in Dubai, as saying ?we have very little information about? the women, and that consulate officials were still waiting for a response to a letter sent to the authorities asking for a list of names and other particulars about the women.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Eduardo Malaya said ?a number of those? arrested had been released, although he could not say how many.

?Consulate staff members have made representations with Dubai authorities for the immediate resolution of their cases against the others who are still under detention,? he said in a text message to the Inquirer.

Nerissa said the Filipinas shared the cell, lined with bunk beds, with other nationals, including some Uzbeks, Chinese, Pakistanis and Indians. They had simple amenities like a TV set, a toilet and an air conditioner.

?But they were being treated harshly and were being shouted at all the time. And you can't really argue with the policemen because they don't speak English well,? Nerissa said.

She said there was no indication up to when the women would be detained. ?Their only request is that if they're going to be deported, then let them be deported,? she said.

Nerissa added that there were fears that they would be held for up to 70 days, although this could not be confirmed. She cited the case of one of the Filipinas who purportedly paid 50,000 dirhams (slightly less than P600,000) in exchange for her freedom.

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