‘Tent City’ of stranded OFWs in KSA. Image courtesy of Migrante

MANILA, Philippines- At least 200 undocumented overseas Filipino workers   on Sunday staged a campout protest outside the PH Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, taking cue from the ongoing Tent City campout in Jeddah.

Also joining the campout were 70 women with 10 children.

“Like those at the Jeddah Tent City, the OFWs also called for free, immediate and mass repatriation by the Aquino government. Since the Tent City broke out, not one OFW has been repatriated by the Philippine government. OFWs at the Tent City still number to at least 4,000, based on Migrante-Jeddah’s latest head count,” said sectoral partylist group Migrante.

According to reports from Migrante-Riyadh, the OFWs were holding their peaceful protest outside the PH post compound when Riyadh POLO Case Officer Abdullah Umpa arrived with Saudi police.

“It was Umpa who pinpointed to the Saudi police who to arrest. Imbes na harapin ng gobyerno ang ating mga OFW sila pa mismo ang nagpaaresto sa kanila. Traydor ang gobyernong ito sa mismong mamamayan niya!” said Garry Martinez, Migrante Partylist 2nd Nominee and Migrante International Chairperson.

Those arrested are leaders of the OFWs, namely, Lyndon Salonga, Juan Carlos and Jon Jon de Vera. The three however were released by Saudi authorities by noon time.

Salonga recounted how they were deposited into a car then Saudi police, together with PH authorities, harassed and threatened them while they drove around. They were eventually dropped off at an area far from the campout site.

The arrests came in the wake of the successful three-day Solidarity Campout held by families of stranded OFWs at the Tent City and promises declared by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ensure the protection and welfare of stranded OFWs in light of the Saudi crackdowns.

“Ito ba ang hinihintay ng goberyong Aquino? Ang tuluyan nang mapahamak ang ating mga kababayan sa Saudi? Heads must roll, those responsible for the arrests and harassment should be held accountable,” Martinez said.

Martinez added that said that as of 3:00pm yesterday, KSA time, at least 66 OFWs were able to enter the compound of the PH Embassy and demanded a dialogue with PH Ambassador to Saudi Ezzedin Tago.

Inside the PH Embassy compound, they said that “they were being harassed and threatened every hour by PH embassy officials”.

Tago reportedly addressed the OFWs at 11:45pm yesterday, KSA time, and told them that they would be transferred to different shelters. The OFWs, however, stood their ground and proceeded to install tents at the basketball court inside the PH embassy. “Naninindigan ang mga OFW na hindi sila aalis doon. At kung ilalabas man sila sa embahada ay dapat sa airport na ang diretso nila at hindi sa kung saang shelter pa.”

“It has been 27 days since the Jeddah Tent City campout started, five days since the solidarity campout of families of stranded OFWs here at the homefront, five days since the DFA and the Aquino government promised to expedite the repatriation of stranded OFWs in Jeddah. Hanggang ngayon ay nagbibilang pa rin tayo ng araw, at naghihintay na mismong ang pangulo natin ay harapin ang krisis na ito.”

“First Jeddah, now Riyadh, and more OFWs are also seeking free, immediate and mass repatriation in Dammam and Al-Khobar. Ano ang balak gawin ng gobyerno? Imbes na tulungan ay ipahuli ang lahat ng OFW na nagpo-protesta at balak magprotesta? Hindi na mapipigilan sa pagprotesta at paggiit ng kanilang karapatan ang ating mga kababayan.”

Martinez said that OFWs in Saudi are giving the Aquino government until May 15 to start repatriating stranded OFWs en masse “or expect bigger protests by OFWs in the region and their families in the Philippines.” (PR)