THEY call it Exit 8 stranded estraha, a temporary two-room shelter rented by Philippine embassy in Riyadh for distress overseas Filipino workers seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia.
Yet with the steady rise of OFWs who mostly run away from abusive employers in the oil-rich Kingdom, the half-way shelter, which could only accommodate 30 persons, is now swarmed with over 130 male occupants.
“There were no enough rooms to rest and sleep, thus makeshifts made up of used tarpaulin have been built by the stranded OFWs themselves. Even at an empty swimming pool, makeshifts were built,” said John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Filipino migrant rights group Migrante in Middle East.
“With a high temperature ranging as high as 42 to 48 degree Celsius, indeed living inside the makeshift without an air conditioning is miserable to say the least,” he added.
According to Monterona, the 130 stranded OFWs are appealing to President Benigno Aquino III for their “swift and mass repatriation.”
“Pres. Aquino can task the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Labor and Employment to work out the repatriation of all stranded OFWs by initiating high level talks with its Saudi counterpart citing humanitarian considerations,” Monterona said.
Like the case of Lorenzo G. Siron, Jr., 62, of Dapdap, Mabalacat, Pampanga, who has been in Exit 8 estraha since March 2014.
Siron alleged that he was a victim of his employer’s labor malpractices, forcing him to run away and sought assistance from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh.
“In order to survive for his daily subsistence and to continue sending remittance to his family, he looks and work part time jobs. He was so unfortunate that on March 29 he met an accident cutting off his left hand at his part time job,” Monterona said.
Another stranded Filipino worker pleading for help is Rodel Lozano, 50, of Gua-gua, Pampanga, who is suffering from a stroke last year.
“We are hoping that our beloved president will attend our appeal as we are in a very dire situation at what we called Bahay Kalinga. Our families are relying for our remittances monthly in which we could no longer send,” said Rodelio S. Ocampo, 34, of Orani, Bataan.
In his video posted online, Ocampo asked Aquino to help them return to the Philippines.
“Bring us home so that we could be with our families and start a living again,” came Ocampo’s appeal.
“The supposed-to-be temporary stay has somewhat became ‘permanent’ to the first 30 OFWs since July 2013, while the rest of the stranded OFWs have been at Exit 8 estraha for at least three months to one year,” Monterona said.
While their repatriation is yet to be resolved, Monterona called on for an on-site assistances to the trapped Filipino workers abroad.
According to Monterona, the OFWs need “decent and livable” accommodations aside from regular supply of food and potable water.
“They also need regular medical checkup and supply of medicines for cold and flu. More importantly, airplane tickets for those who have their travel documents and exit visas ready.”
Earlier, Migrante also called on the Philippine government to come up with a blue print that will provide assistance to at least 3,000 undocumented OFWs who may avail amnesty in Oman, where the Sultanate government is offering undocumented migrants a chance to process their papers in order to leave the country.
The amnesty will end on July 30, 2015.
“Undocumented OFWs are in deplorable situation with no regular job, if not no job at all for months or even years. So how could they raise an amount for their airfare and other expenses related to amnesty formalities,” said Monterona.