47K OFWs still ‘stuck’ in Middle East amid pandemic as DFA awaits more funds
MANILA, Philippines — Around 47,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are still “stuck” in the Middle East amid the pandemic and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is awaiting more funds to be able to bring them home.
“We’re still looking at around 47,000 Filipinos stuck in the Middle East,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola told senators in the DFA’s budget hearing on Thursday.
Most of the OFWs still stranded in the Middle East were employed under the “kafala” system, said Arriola.
Under the system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (“kafeel”) during the contract period.
The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment, nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.
“They cannot come home unless they’re allowed by their original employers,” Arriola said.
“Some of the employers would ask us to pay for the deployment costs, which as of now, we’re also doing that but, of course, quietly. If we don’t do that, we won’t be able to bring them home,” she added.
Arriola told senators that the DFA is still awaiting the special allotment release order (SARO) for the amount of P820 million in additional funding to the agency’s assistance to nationals (ATN) fund.
“Once we get our SARO, we will resume all our flights because we’ve been chartering already a lot of flights,” she added.
The DFA has so far chartered 57 flights using the agency’s ATN fund, she said.
“Most flights were from the Middle East but there are more and more people who become jobless and there are a lot of people who became undocumented because they don’t have jobs anymore and they’re sponsors already let go of them,” Arriola added.
As of October 4, the DFA said it had facilitated the repatriation of over 204,481 overseas Filipinos worldwide.
Of this number, 69,477 are sea-based workers, while 135,004 are land-based workers.
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