Migrante echoes Human Rights Watch call on Saudi to scrap sponsorship system

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today agreed with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in identifying the kafala or sponsorship system as one of the main policies that has caused the surge in number of undocumented migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

The HRW, in a July 2 statement calling on Saudi Arabia to protect migrant workers’ rights, said that the Saudi government should “abolish its migrant worker sponsorship system and allow workers in abusive situations to easily change their jobs”.

Migrante International, together with various human rights and migrant advocate organizations, has long since called on the Saudi government to end its implementation of the kafala system.

The kafala is an immigration and labor system imposed by the Saudi government on migrant workers. Under the kafala, no migrant worker is allowed to enter the country without an “in-country” sponsor, usually the employer. The sponsor is primarily responsible for the workers’ visa and legal status.

Also under the kafala, migrant workers’ residency permits are bound to their “sponsors” whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country. Employers often abuse this power to confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrant workers into slave-like conditions. In effect, the kafala makes migrant workers more vulnerable to abuses and modern-day slavery.

“The sponsorship system is in direct violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

“These policies are the main reasons why yearly we see an increasing number of stranded OFWs, OFWs in distress, jailed OFWs and OFWs on death row in Saudi. These policies have been in place for decades now yet both the Saudi and Philippine governments have done nothing to address its adverse effects. The kafala is one of the main reasons why there are now thousands of stranded OFWs in Saudi awaiting repatriation,” he said.

Martinez said that the Philippine government is also to blame for failing to impose its own laws and policies on host countries like Saudi Arabia just so it could continue to implement an unabashed and unapologetic labor export policy.

In fact, Martinez said, under the Aquino administration, more OFWs have been deployed to Saudi Arabia despite the yearly increasing growth rate of abuses on OFWs in Saudi.

Ito ang mukha ng walang-malasakit at walang-awang labor export policy. Pigang-piga na ang ating mga OFW pero patuloy pa rin tayong nagpapadala ng mga OFW doon. Kapag nagkaproblema naman, napakabagal ng tugon ng gobyerno,” Martinez said.

Martinez challenged the Aquino government to practice political will and join international clamor to end the kafala.

Martinez said that they will highlight the plight of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia as a major case in need of global action at the International Conference on Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines which will be held in Manila on July 19 to 21.

Returned OFWs and families of stranded OFWs and victims of crackdowns abroad are also gearing to participate in the People’s SONA on July 22. ###