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PH: No more Kuwait shelters only if OFWs stop fleeing from bosses

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said the Philippines will stop setting up more shelters for distressed overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait if the number of those fleeing their employers declines.

“It’s non-negotiable in a sense that we have to operate them because there are runaways. What is negotiable is, definitely, not to put up more because we don’t want to see shelters sprouting,” Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said in an interview with ANC.

The shelters have become a sore point in the country’s relations with Kuwait, which imposed a ban on the entry of Filipinos after Manila barred the deployment of first-time domestic helpers to that country in reaction to the gruesome killing of Jullebee Ranara in early 2023.

The DFA official noted that more than 500 OFWs were being sheltered by the DFA before, with the embassy estimating that one out of 400 OFWs in Kuwait are considered runaways. He said this number is higher compared to other Middle East countries.

De Vega pointed out that the DFA, along with the Department of Migrant Workers, considers the repatriation of more than 600 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Kuwait as a “positive development.”

“It is a positive development because those 600 or so, including 353 who flew just this weekend from Kuwait, had been waiting for months and months and that was an issue between the Philippines and Kuwait — why are we sheltering so many workers, instead of allowing them or using the Kuwaiti system? It showed that Kuwait is capable of and willing to issue exit permits,” he said.

He said with the repatriation of these distressed OFWs, the number of Filipinos staying in shelters has gone down, with only slightly over a hundred of them remaining there.

But Senator Raffy Tulfo slammed the Kuwaiti government for what he described as a crackdown on OFWs.

Tulfo, chairperson of the Senate committee on migrant workers, also assailed demands by the Kuwait government for the Philippines to issue an apology for supposedly violating agreements between the two countries, when it should be the other way around.

“We cannot come to the negotiating table on bended knees and folded arms,” Tulfo said.

The senator emphasized that the Philippines does not lose the right to protect its citizens simply because the crimes and abuses against them were done on Kuwaiti soil.

“Oftentimes, victim-OFWs were being forced to go to our embassy to guarantee they will not be subject to a biased process in seeking justice,” he said.

Last month, the Kuwaiti government suspended all new visas for OFWs indefinitely due to the Philippines’ reported violations of their bilateral labor agreement signed in 2018.

The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said among the violations are housing workers in shelters, searching for runaways without involving state institutions, communicating with Kuwaiti citizens without permission from authorities, and pressuring Kuwaiti employers to add clauses to employment contracts.

The ban came three months after Manila suspended its deployment of household service workers to Kuwait due to cases of abuse, including the killing of Filipina household worker Jullebee Ranara.

Ranara’s body was found burned in the middle of a desert in Kuwait and was reportedly raped and impregnated by the suspect, the 17-year-old son of her employer. Meanwhile, polls opened on Tuesday in Kuwait’s seventh general election in just over a decade, following repeated political crises that have undermined parliament and stalled reforms.

More than 793,000 eligible voters will have the chance to determine the make-up of the 50-seat legislature in the only Gulf Arab state to have an elected parliament with powers to hold the government to account.

Kuwait’s emir, Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, called the vote last month after he had again dissolved parliament amid a persistent deadlock with the executive branch that has deterred investment and impeded growth.

A total of 207 candidates are running for a four-year term as lawmakers, the lowest number in a general election since 1996. They include opposition figures and 13 women.

— Rey E. Requejo and Macon Ramos-Araneta with AFP

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