Barely a month before the dreaded deadline for the resumption of crackdowns on undocumented migrants by the Saudi government on July 3, OFWs in the Tent Cities in Jeddah and Riyadh face another threat as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) continues to claim lives in the Middle East.
This morning, returned OFWs and families of stranded OFWs in Saudi and Jordan trooped to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) main office in Pasay to demand urgent on-site assistance for stranded OFWs in the Saudi Tent Cities and in shelters in Jordan.
“It is not enough for the Philippine government to just warn OFWs of the virus, they have to be more pro-active and deploy medical personnel to attend to the needs of the stranded OFWs,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
According to Martinez, they are very concerned because even before the virus outbreak, stranded OFWs have already complained of the complete lack of medical assistance for OFWs and their children who have gone ill in the Tent Cities in Saudi and in the PH shelter in Jordan. “In one incident, the PH embassy even prevented a volunteer medical mission from entering their compound in Riyadh.”
He said that the stranded OFWs are very susceptible to illnesses because of their dire conditions. “They are exposed to the unbearable heat, have no access to PH posts for their sanitary needs, and are short on food, water and medicine. Urgent on-site medical assistance should be given them, especially in light of the PH government’s snail-paced repatriation,” Martinez said.
Martinez said that at least 1,000 OFWs are still stranded in Riyadh while 5,000 are in Jeddah. Meanwhile, some 150 stranded OFWs are also stranded in the PH shelter in Jordan. Since the Tent Cities started, only a little over 160 OFWs have been repatriated by the PH government.
Automatic medical assistance for returning OFWs
Martinez also pointed out that the PH government should also put in place automatic medical assistance and check-ups for returning OFWs from the Tent Cities.
He said that another cause for grave concern is that most OFWs who were repatriated from Jeddah came home with the symptoms of the MERS-CoV. “They have colds, coughs and some even have fever. Unfortunately, upon arrival, the OWWA refuses to allow them to stay in their shelter and has no clear medical assistance for them.”
Martinez cited the case of recently-returned women OFWs from Jeddah who were forcibly made to leave the OWWA shelter. “Ang banggit nila, sinabihan daw sila ng OWWA na hindi sila pwedeng manatili doon dahil mga undocumented sila. Iginiit pa natin na bigyan sila ng medical assistance dahil may mga sakit sila, pati mga bata. They were not given medical assistance by the OWWA,” he said.
One very sick OFW was brought to the Migrante office in Quezon City “because the OWWA merely gave her ordinary bus fare to go home to Mindanao. Wala man lang gamot, o kahit pangkain para sa maysakit.” “We had to fetch her up at the bus station because she could barely stand up.”
The OFWs and families of the stranded staged their protest a day before the nation is set to commemorate National Migrants’ Day. Aside from medical assistance and other benefits, they reiterated their call for “free, urgent and mass repatriation” for stranded OFWs. Tomorrow, June 7, National Migrants’ Day, the OFWs and families of stranded OFWs will hold a protest action in Mendiola. ###