Migrante International vehemently denounces POLO & OWWA officials in Saudi Arabia for mercilessly driving out distressed OFWs who trooped to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh. The OFWs were merely seeking out the US$200 financial assistance promised to them by the Duterte government through Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III. Instead, they were yelled at and harassed by embassy officials and personnel. Ground reports say that POLO officials even called the local police to disperse the distressed OFWs.
Over a thousand OFWs have been flocking to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh since the 29th of March after Bello announced that the Duterte government will give out $200 for every OFW whose job is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor Attache Nasser S. Mustafa’s also vowed to provide food assistance in addition to the cash aid. However, OFWs complained that they were only made to fill up a “unified request for assistance” form. OFWs were then asked to group together into five (5) or up to nine (9) and after which, they were told to divide among themselves the distributed household items like soy sauce, vinegar, coffee, soap, etc.
Where is the $200 cash aid promised to them by the Duterte government? Distressed OFWs did not endure starvation and hours of distant travels just to draw their lots over a very small number of household items upon reaching the grounds of the Philippine Embassy. POLO and OWWA officials did not even bother to look for establishments or places to accommodate OFWs who were at risk of being caught by the 3pm curfew imposed by Saudi Arabian authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The thousands of distressed OFWs going in droves to the Philippine Embassy show how serious and desperate they are in their dire conditions. Due to massive layoffs in the Middle East, many stranded OFWs are being added to the growing number of undocumented Filipino migrants in the region. We are calling on the Duterte government to immediately release the US$ 200 cash assistance its labour department promised to OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the negative impacts of the crisis expected to be prolonged further in the coming months, the Duterte government must come up with a more comprehensive assistance package for affected OFWs.