WHILE stranded overseas Filipino workers welcomed the amnesty granted by the Sultanate of Oman, a migrant rights group also accused the Philippine government for not having a comprehensive repatriation program for illegal workers.
“Not all OFWs have the means to support their repatriation. 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 John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante in Middle East.
According to Monterona, the Oman’s Ministry of Manpower officially announced a three-month amnesty period for all undocumented migrants starting May 3 to July 30.
“The group estimated that at least 3,000 undocumented OFWs may avail Oman’s amnesty,” he said.
An estimated 150,000 OFWs are working in Oman.
“Upon registration, undocumented migrant can avail a travel permit to their country of origin without penalty or any fines. One-way flight Oman to Manila ticket cost is around P25,000,” he said.
While Monterona claimed that Philippine government assistance is wanting, he urged embassy officials to have “a mechanism be put in place for those who do not have the means to provide their own airfare.”
“Undocumented OFWs in Oman have been asking and requesting us for help to regularize if not allow them to be repatriated without penalty. The Oman amnesty is an opportunity, and this should be availed by all undocumented migrants,” Monterona said.
Monterona asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Labor and Employment and their respective posts in Oman “to come up with a blue print that will provide assistance to all undocumented OFWs so that they could avail the amnesty.”
“Since the Oman amnesty is good for only 3 months, a swift and free mass repatriation plan or program must be developed by all Philippine government concerned agencies,” said Monterona.
Migrante then lambasted President Benigno Aquino III for his failure “to fully provide assistance to OFWs on-site during his 2010 inaugural speech.”
According to Monterona, there was a low number of undocumented OFWs who have availed previous amnesty grant by host governments in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
“Less than 50 percent of undocumented workers availed of the previous amnesty mainly due to the absence of a comprehensive repatriation program of the Philippine government.
“The rising numbers of undocumented OFWs estimated to reach at least to two million around the world is quite alarming in the absence of a comprehensive repatriation program by the government,” Monterona said in a statement.
Monterona said that the on-site assistance they are asking “covers half way shelter provision, legal and labor representation, food and personal of needs of those stranded OFWs and those staying in half way shelter.”
“Most of the undocumented OFWs in Oman don’t have shelters. They are so-called TNTs.”