On National Migrants’ Day Returned OFWs, kin of stranded in Saudi remind Aquino of July 3 resumption of crackdowns

Returned overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi and relatives of stranded OFWs in the Jeddah and Riyadh Tent Cities today trooped to Mendiola to reiterate their demand for free, urgent and mass repatriation of stranded OFWs in Saudi before crackdowns resume on July 3.

According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the protest was a reminder on to the Philippine government on National Migrants’ Day that the “clock is ticking for still thousands of OFWs stranded in Saudi.” “Each passing day without urgent and decisive action from the PH government is a life-and-death situation for the OFWs who are barely surviving in the campouts.”

In Jeddah, Migrante and other Filipino community volunteers have already renewed calls for donations of food, water and medical supplies for the stranded OFWs. “Their supplies have run out. People are getting sick, and we are especially concerned because of the MERS-CoV epidemic.”

In Riyadh, the PH embassy continues to implement a food, water and medicine blockade and volunteer medical missions have been prevented from entering the embassy premises.

Martinez said that at least 1,000 OFWs are still stranded in Riyadh while 5,000 are in Jeddah. Since the Tent Cities started, only a little over 160 OFWs have been repatriated by the PH government. He slammed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for “falsely reporting that only hundreds are left in the Tent Cities to make it appear that they have the situation under control.”

“At the rate they’re going, only a minority of the stranded OFWs will be repatriated until July 3, the Saudi-imposed deadline for the resumption of crackdowns. There is still no mass repatriation, our OFWs are still returning home in trickles and at weekly intervals. The government has to act faster or we can expect the humanitarian crisis in Saudi to balloon ten-fold after July 3,” Martinez said.

 Initial victories

Meanwhile, Martinez said that it is only fitting to commemorate National Migrants’ Day by highlighting initial victories achieved by the persistence and collective action of returned OFWs and their families.

Yesterday, they held a picket-dialogue at the Overseas Welfare Workers Administration (OWWA) in Pasay to demand financial assistance and other benefits entitled to returned OFWs and their families. As a result of the protest, the OFWs got commitments from the OWWA for the following:

–          Representation in the OWWA Board meeting on June 28 to discuss the demand for a P10,000 financial assistance to ALL returned OFWs from Saudi;

–          On-site medical assistance at the Saudi Tent Cities and automatic medical assistance for returning OFWs in light of the MERS-CoV epidemic;

–          Free airfare for all stranded OFWs with schedules for repatriation;

–          Free airfare and transportation costs for returned OFWs to their provinces;

–          Funds and benefits for repatriation of remains of OFWs who died while being stranded in Saudi.

“Today, we commemorate National Migrants’ Day by underscoring the present situation and crisis hounding our OFWs under Aquino’s administration. We also commemorate National Migrants’ Day by stressing the need for collective action to further advance OFWs’ rights and welfare despite the Aquino government’s continuous neglect and indifference to the plight of OFWs around the world.”

Martinez said that they are gearing for bigger actions and protests until the July 3 resumption of Saudi crackdowns. ###