Government responsibility in repatriating stranded Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)
As the number of stranded overseas Filipino workers camping out beside the Philippine Consulate building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia that started on April 10 surges to around 2,500 and still counting, the situation now became a full blown humanitarian crisis. About sixty percent (60%) of the stranded OFWs are women, some of them have children.
There are about 50 who are old and sick. The stranded OFWs’ ‘tent city’ is under the direct heat of the sun which temperature ranges to 42 to 46 degree Celsius. Thus, swift action is required to avert the crisis.
As early as September 2012, there were already 7,000 stranded OFWs who have listed up at the PH Consulate in Jeddah seeking to avail the government’s repatriation program. PH Consulate and labor officials told them that they will be called if the formalities of their documentation have been done.
Many of them religiously and regularly followed up their repatriation with PH consulate and labor officials only to be told that if they have money to pay for their fines related to failure to renew their residence permit locally known as Iqama and running away from their sponsor-employer (absconding), more or less they need 2,500 up to 8,000 saudi rials depending on the length of time of being undocumented.
Only then they can be repatriated via ‘special permit’ arrangement.
Understandably, only a few could produce said amount as being an undocumented our fellow OFWs do not have a regular work and in fact have been struggling for their daily sustenance and temporary abode.
Given the dire situation of the stranded OFWs, they really need government assistance. The repatriation of distressed and undocumented OFWs is within the purview of government’s state responsibility and as mandated by the Migrant Workers Act or Republic Act 10022.
What actions the PH govt. need to take in order to avert this humanitarian crisis?
First, it must initiate a high-level talk with the concerned Saudi government officials and explore the possibility of the granting of general amnesty to all undocumented and stranded OFWs whose number have reached based on our conservative estimate to 22,000, Kingdom-wide. The PH govt. may seek the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Migrants, and other similar international human rights organizations in exploring the granting of general amnesty with the host Saudi government. The general amnesty will extinguish the penalties or fines due to breach of Saudi immigration law.
Secondly, if the host govt. does not want to grant general amnesty, the PH govt. may also explore the granting of a waiver for the issuance of exit permit by the sponsors of the stranded OFWs. The waiver will expedite the repatriation process especially those who have no absconding cases.
Third, while exploring the first and second proposed actions as stated above, the PH govt. should pay its outstanding or unpaid lease rental for the Al Mina hajj terminal that was used as a temporary shelter of previous stranded OFWs way back 2009 to 2011. The unpaid lease rental reached around 1.4-M Saudi rials, roughly equivalent to P15.3-M. If this will be paid, the PH govt. can renegotiate with the management of the Al Mina hajj terminal another lease agreement, so that the stranded OFWs especially the old and sick, women and children will be relocated from their camp site beside the PH consulate building.
The 3-month grace period given by the Saudi govt. to all undocumented and stranded to fix their proper documentation will end on 9th of July, and the time allowance is not enough to get all the 7,000 stranded OFWs repatriated via the usual legal process.
They’re those who have signed up to the PH consulate in Jeddah since last year only to be told that the PH govt. repatriation program is halted or is still awaiting the host government amnesty program.
The call by the PH govt. to the 2,500 stranded OFWs to go back to their accommodations and were told not to join the camp out only shows the PH government dilly-dallying and reactive stance in dealing this humanitarian crisis.
Is the Philippine government serious and willing to accept responsibility in the repatriation of the stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia?
(Sgd.) John Leonard Monterona
Migrante-Middle East coordinator
Mobile No. 00966 559428739
PH Mobile No. 0063 923 420 0112