Thousands of OFWs to face crackdowns as Saudi amnesty ends on July 24

Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched its amnesty campaign on March 29, only more than 6,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been repatriated by the Philippine government.

This figure is short of the 15,000 who registered for the program, or those who the Philippine embassy deemed “qualified” for repatriation. These include OFWs who have overstayed their visa, OFWs with expired iqama, workers who have left their employers, and, workers who came in with a work permit but did not obtain their iqama within 90 days of arrival.

The amnesty, however, does not provide remedy for workers who have existing or pending labor complaints at the Saudi Ministry of Labor, such as non-payment of wages and other benefits.

“We have said before that while the Saudi amnesty program is a crucial opportunity for the Duterte government to process the repatriation of hundeds of thousands of stranded OFWs, we have also reiterated that it should play a more pro-active role and not be complacent and depend solely on the amnesty program. The number of repatriated OFWs shows a dismal effort on the part of the government. It is a far cry from the government’s own target, and definitely miniscule compared to the efforts of other governments. Ethiopa, for one, has already repatriated at least 60,000 of its nationals since the amnesty program took place,” said Arman Hernando, Migrante International spokesperson.

“The issue of unpaid wages and labor violations is also still prevalent among OFWs since the Saudi crisis erupted in 2014-2015. What will become of them when the July 24 deadline ends?”

Hernando said that many OFWs are still awaiting resolution of their cases, at the prompting of the Duterte government through the DOLE (Deparment of Labor and Employment). “Last year, when DOLE Sec. Bello visited Saudi, he encouraged OFWs to file labor complaints at the Saudi Labor Ministry. Bello promised legal assistance to these OFWs. They signed SPAs (special powers of attorney) to allow the Duterte government to represent them in their cases. Understandably, these OFWs would opt to stay instead of avail of the amnesty in anticipation of the wages that are due them. What is the Duterte government’s recourse for them?”

“Sadly, OFWs who have been waiting for months, even years, for the resolution of their labor complaints may find the amnesty their only feasible solution and just opt to forfeit their claims. Again, what is the Duterte government’s plan for them?” Hernando said.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be launching crackdowns on undocumented migrants after the July 24 deadline of the amnesty program.

Migrante International submitted a set of demands to the DOLE on July 14, 2017 in anticipation of the July 24 deadline (see attached). The demands include:

  1. The immediate mass repatriation of ALL stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia.
  • For the POLO, POEA, OWWA and recruitment agencies to immediately process exit visas and provide air tickets at no cost to the stranded OFWs. Some returned OFWs have complained of paying for their own ticket fares just to be able to avail of the amnesty.
  • For the PH posts to dispatch teams to far-flung provinces, labor camps and areas to assist OFWs who want to avail of the amnesty but have no means to do so.
  • For the Duterte government to secure chartered flights, as had been done by other embassies and governments, to ensure that enough flights can ferry those who want to be repatriated. Because the Duterte government has relied solely on flights provided for by the Saudi government, some OFWs have resorted to shelling out money to pay for their own air fare. Others remain stranded despite having completed their repatriation process, awaiting available flights.
  • For the Duterte government to appeal for an extension of the amnesty program to cater to thousands more who are yet to be assisted by Duterte posts.
  1. Comprehensive assistance for returning, returned and stranded OFWs and their families, including but not limited to financial, legal (for cases filed in Saudi Arabia and in the Philippines), medical, counselling and other psycho-social assistance.
  2. Comprehensive reintegration program for returned OFWs in the form of regular jobs with decent wages in the country and not dole-outs, band-aid solutions and loan packages.
  3. Seriously review the consideration of a deployment ban on household service workers due to the rising number of abuses, rape, sexual harassment and other cases of maltreatment of female domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

“Unless these are decisively addressed, the July 24 deadline poses a clear and present danger to hundreds of thousands of undocumented OFWs in Saudi Arabia.,” Hernando said.

Thousands of stranded OFWs are in danger of being violently dispersed, arrested and detained by Saudi authorities as crackdowns against undocumented migrants are expected to resume, he said. “At this time, the government should not only be pro-active but preemptive. They should provide legal assistance and protection. PH posts should open their doors to stranded OFWs, to provide them sanctuary and prevent a repeat of the Tent City in 2013. Aside from an extension of the amnesty program, the Duterte government should demand a stop to the scheduled crackdowns in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Returned OFWs from Saudi Arabia and their families will join the Migrante contingent on the People’s SONA protests on July 24. ###