DOLE asked to explain lifting of deployment ban to Jordan, Lebanon

Migrante Partylist today asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to explain its grounds for recently lifting the deployment bans in Jordan and Lebanon when human trafficking and violence remain rampant in the two countries.

The deployment bans in the two countries were imposed several years ago due to rising cases of rights violations, human trafficking and violence caused by internal conflicts.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante Partylist, their group had long sought the investigation of what it called “state-sponsored human trafficking” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Jordan.

In Jordan, some 200 OFWs are still stranded at the POLO-OWWA shelter. The Philippine government imposed a deployment ban on Jordan in 2007 because of many cases of abuse and maltreatment of OFWs there. However, most of the stranded OFWs in the shelter arrived in Jordan 2010 onwards.

Bragas-Regalado said that the OFWs are being asked to pay “overstaying” fees and their ticket fares by the POLO-OWWA. They have no means to pay because they are “runaways”, having escaped their employers due to unpaid wages and physical abuse. Some have resorted to borrowing or begging for alms to raise funds.

According to Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POEA) case officers in Jordan, overstaying fees are supposed to be shouldered by the Philippine government but “since they have all become undocumented” the government cannot pay for them. “Of course they are undocumented, they were trafficked in Jordan despite the ban. The question now is how were they able to enter the country when a ban was in place?” said Bragas-Regalado.

Some of the stranded OFWs have already left the shelter to seek work. “Ang gobyerno mismo ang nagtulak sa kanila sa mga human traffickers. Because of the PH post’s inaction, some have been forced to succumb to the lure of trafficking agents in Jordan in search for work,” she said.

Most of the OFWs have been in the POLO-OWWA for several months, while some have been stranded there for years. In 2010, the DFA promised to provide tickets for the OFWs’ repatriation. “But two years have passed and this had not yet materialized. OFWs that were able to return home from Jordan were able to do so because they raised the funds themselves. So we ask the DOLE to please not justify the apparent haphazard lifting of the bans by saying that the OFWs can finally go home to their families for Christmas. It is not that simple.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon continues to be unsafe for work for OFWs because of escalating violence and gun battles as the civil war in Syria continues to spread to its neighbouring countries. Recently, at least seven people were killed and dozens wounded in gun battles in Beirut and the coasts of Tripoli.

Bragas-Regalado urged Congress to investigate the strict implementation of deployment bans, as well as seek a review and evaluation of existing bilateral agreements between the Philippine government and countries of destination of OFWs.

Section 3 of Republic Act 8042, or the Migrant Workers Act, states that the government will only allow deployment if the host country “has existing labor laws and social laws protecting the rights of workers; is a signatory to and/or a ratifier of multilateral conventions, declarations or resolutions relating to the protection of workers; and has included a bilateral agreement or arrangement with the government on the protection of the rights of OFWs.” ###