The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that the number of undocumented and runaway Filipino workers in the Middle East has reached nearly 10,000, according to Migrante-Middle East (M-ME), a Riyadh-based alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
M-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona relayed the information to the Inquirer even as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) recorded a “downtrend” in the deployment of OFWs for the most part of 2010.
“The number of troubled OFWs here in Saudi Arabia and other OFW-hosting countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates continues to grow,” Monterona said in an e-mail.
He said that in Saudi Arabia alone, his group had been daily receiving “an average of three to four complaints of physical and sexual abuse, as well as unfair labor practices, from OFWs.”
Monterona said that in Riyadh, the capital, 120 women, “mostly victims of sexual abuse and maltreatment by their Arab employers,” were among the runaways.
He said many of the women had been staying at Bahay Kalinga, a facility run by the Philippine Embassy, for more than six months now.
In Jeddah and Al-Khobar, located in the western and eastern parts of Saudi Arabia, about 180 runaways are awaiting repatriation to Manila, Monterona said.
“Worse, all these cases were exacerbated by the failure of our embassy and consulate officials to provide [the OFWs] prompt and adequate assistance,” he said.
Asked to comment, the public information service unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the numbers claimed by M-ME “are highly speculative and have no basis.”
“[But the DFA] takes these things seriously. We ask that the names and whereabouts of these individuals be given to us so we can extend assistance,” it said.
It also said that the DFA was “doing its best to attend to these cases,” and that “all reported cases to the DFA and its embassies and consulates have been given assistance to the fullest extent possible.”
“Currently, the DFA’s office for migrant workers’ affairs is working for the repatriation of stranded workers in the Middle East,” it added.
Drop in deployment
POEA Deputy Administrator Stella Banawis on Tuesday said “preliminary data” had indicated a 3.0-percent drop in OFW deployment, or only 1.079 million deployed from January to October compared to 1.112 million during the same period last year.
“Negative 3.0 percent,” she said. “So we are actually projecting a decrease this year based on the trend, although it is still preliminary.”
She said the policy of mandatory insurance for OFWs as well as the situation in other countries—for example, the increase of Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong—might have also affected OFW deployment.
However, Banawis said, the POEA noted a 10.7-percent increase in the number of accredited employers: 16,665 from January to September compared to 15,049 during the same period in 2009.
There was also a 31.5-percent growth in job orders, Banawis said.
“These job orders have a two-year validity, so it does not mean that all will be processed this year. Normally, we approve thousands, up to 500,000,” she said.
Filipino miners file POEA complaint
A group of OFWs working in a nickel and cobalt mine in Madagascar is preparing to file a formal complaint in the POEA against their employer, Kents Engineers and Contractors (KEC), for alleged unfair labor practices.
Four leaders of the 2,000-plus Filipino mine workers have returned to the Philippines.
One of them, Reynaldo Ubasa, said he and his colleagues were made to work at the project site for more than eight hours a day with no overtime pay.
Ubasa also complained of “discrepancies and delays” in the payment of their salaries.
The KEC mine is a 10-hour drive from Antananarivo, the Madagascar capital.
The Inquirer learned about the OFWs’ plight from Terry Ridon, chair of the militant League of Filipino Students.
Ridon said he met Ubasa and the others by chance at the international airport of Johannesburg last week, shortly before they took separate flights for Manila.
He called on the DFA and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to respond immediately to the mine workers’ problems.
The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi was now looking into the matter.
The embassy in Nairobi has jurisdiction over Madagascar, an island-nation located southeast of the African continent. Source: Jerry E. Esplanada of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
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