Gov’t coming to aid of OFWs in Saudi
THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will lead this week an interagency mission to Saudi Arabia to assist the thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) left jobless and stranded there since the plunge in oil prices.
The first batch of government officials will leave on Wednesday to provide humanitarian, legal and other consular assistance to the distressed OFWs, a DFA statement said.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello met with Saudi Ambassador to Manila Dr. Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Bussairy on Aug. 3 to assess the extent of the problem and facilitate assistance to the displaced workers.
The DFA said the immediate target was to aid those “without food and in dire need of medical care.”
The high-level delegation would negotiate not just immediate but also long-term solutions to the problem of stranded OFWs, Yasay said in the statement.
The Saudi ambassador assured the Philippine government they would exert all efforts in assisting the affected OFWs, Yasay said.
The DFA was trying to facilitate the exit documentation and repatriation of the workers. The DFA statement said it would also provide legal assistance to OFWs pursuing monetary claims against their companies even after their repatriation.
The directive of [President Duterte] is to bring all of them home as soon as possible,” Bello said in a television interview.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said it had started releasing cash aid to OFWs who lost their jobs.
Labor rights monitors said last week some Filipinos had been forced to beg or sift through garbage to survive after going unpaid for months or being laid off construction jobs.
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly Filipinos in construction jobs, face the brunt of the contraction in the economy due to the rapid decline in oil prices.
The government estimates about 9,000 Filipino workers were affected, although the Manila-based Migrante organization said that as many as 20,000 could be in distress. Another nongovernment group, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, estimated 11,000 lost their jobs.
No exit clearances
Thousands of Indians and Pakistanis are also reportedly stranded in Saudi Arabia following the layoffs.
Susan Ople, head of the Blas Ople Policy Center, said one reason OFWs could not come home was they lacked exit clearances from the companies that fired them and failed to pay their wages. This is compounded by the problem of expired work and residency permits of some workers. She said this could only be untangled through diplomatic talks.
Ople noted the Indian and French governments held bilateral talks with the Saudi government and succeeded in getting aid for their citizens in similar circumstances.
Saudi hosts an estimated 1.5 million OFWs or 50 percent of about 3 million Filipino migrant workers throughout the Middle East. With reports from Julie M. Aurelio; AFP
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