Repatriation of PH workers from Kuwait under way

An irate President Rodrigo Duterte shows photos of Filipino workers who were reportedly abused in Kuwait during his speech at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo from Malacañang)

About 400 Filipino domestic workers are scheduled to arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) from Kuwait on Monday, as labor and foreign affairs officials prepare details of a deployment ban to the oil-rich country that President Duterte has ordered.

A group of 24 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) — all of them domestic workers — arrived at Naia Terminal 1 via Philippine Airlines Flight PR 669 around 6:40 a.m. on Sunday.

They were met by representatives from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs.

Undocumented workers

Most of the domestic helpers, who have taken shelter at the OFW Resource Center maintained by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait, were undocumented workers.

Many said they escaped from abusive employers.

Twenty of those who arrived at Naia were asked to fill out immigration papers. All 24 were later taken by bus to the Owwa Halfway Home in Pasay City.

There are some 10,800 “undocumented” Filipino workers, mostly domestic helpers, in Kuwait, according to the DFA.

The DFA said that of the 260,000 OFWs in Kuwait, 170,000 were domestic workers.

The President has ordered the repatriation of distressed Filipinos from Kuwait after police found last week the body of domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis  inside a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait City.

Kuwaiti police said Demafelis died and was stuffed inside  the freezer more than a year ago.

Senators Cynthia Villar and Win Gatchalian expressed support for Mr. Duterte’s decision to order a deployment ban of Filipino domestic workers to Kuwait.

“The dignity and rights of our domestic workers should always be upheld,” Villar said in a  statement, as she sought a review of the country’s overseas employment program.

Interviewed on radio, Villar said women could hold jobs even as welders in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

She also said women also could be employed in the country’s tourism industry. “They only need to be trained and retrained so they could acquire skills and employment here.”

Gatchalian said the government should no longer allow OFWs in countries “where we don’t have strong bilateral agreements to protect” them.

“More so, we should no longer send them to countries where mechanisms and laws for [their] protection are nonexistent,” he said in a statement.

Also interviewed on radio, the senator called for the retraining of the repatriated Filipino workers from Kuwait.

Gatchalian expressed optimism that the returning Filipino domestic helpers could be absorbed into the economy through a combination of livelihood program and job matching.

Repatriation flights

On Monday, 260 domestic workers will arrive at Naia via another PAL flight around 6:30 a.m., followed by 140 more via a Gulf Air flight around 10 a.m.

The Department of Labor and Employment said around 800 OFWs, mostly domestic workers, would arrive between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18.

Following the President’s request, the country’s two major airlines—Cebu Pacific and PAL—said they would be mounting flights to Kuwait to help in the repatriation. —Reports from Jerome Aning and Christine O. Avendaño