There is no guarantee from the Saudi Arabia government that those Filipinos whose papers are still being processed for repatriation or regularization of their statuses won’t be arrested in light of the Saudization policy, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said during a press briefing that some 1,600 Filipinos are still waiting for repatriation or correction of their statuses since their papers are still under process.
Most of these Filipinos are still camping outside the Philippine missions in Riyadh and Jeddah.
“We don’t have such guarantee. But we know they wont be arrested,” the secretary told reporters.
Rey Catapang of the department’s Middle East Affairs, urged Filipinos camping outside the consulate general in Jeddah to take shelter in the facilities provided by the Philippine government.
He added that the number of Filipinos camping outside are mostly those who have pending transactions in the embassy and consulate general.
To date, some 4,500 Filipinos have already been repatriated following the extension of the grace period from July 3 to November 3 this year. The Philippine government, as well as Vice President Jejomar Binay, made representations to the oil-rich kingdom to extend the November 3 deadline.
But the kingdom did not respond to the requests as it announced over the weekend the official end of the grace period.
The implementation of the Saudization policy would enforce a strict crackdown on illegal foreign workers in the kingdom as the government hopes to provide more economic opportunities for Arab women and youth following the Arab Spring back in 2011.
Del Rosario lamented that it took long for Filipinos in Saudi Arabia to decide they want to be repatriated or they want their statuses there corrected.
The secretary said there is a certain process that needs to be followed in terms of the repatriation and the correction of status. But aside from that, Filipinos were “indecisive.”
“Filipinos do not make a quick decision. It is also a process in terms of their decision making . . . Not very decisive,” del Rosario said.
“Contributing to the delay of the repatriation is the indecision of our own people,” he added.
Initially, 11,000 Filipinos came to the embassy for help. As the process went on, this was almost halved to only 6,000.
“We don’t know what happened to the rest. They think that the correction period will be extended. Maybe they thought they will have more time to correct,” del Rosario said.
Another factor that slowed down the repatriation process was there are a number of cases filed against the Filipinos by their employers. “These need to be clarified before they can be repatriated.”
So far, there have been no reports of Filipinos arrested because of the Saudization policy. Del Rosario said the department have formed teams that will visit detention centers, police stations and jails to check for Filipinos.
As for those Filipinos who did not seek the assistance of the embassy and the consulate general with regards to the Saudization policy, the Foreign Affairs chief said it looks like some have taken it to themselves to take the risk of staying in the kingdom as undocumented.
“That’s a question I cannot answer because the nature of the status of these people undocumented as they are. We don’t really know how many undocumented there are . . . There could be more,” he said.
According to official figures provided by the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, there are 660,000 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia. Several groups, however, said there could be as many as 1.2 million Filipinos in the kingdom.
A large chunk of them could be undocumented, labor groups added.
“I think you can consider the Philippine government done everything possible to facilitate the repatriation of our people. It’s a process and you have to undergo the whole process to be repatriated,” he said. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON