OFWs abused in Saudi crackdown

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Filipina domestic helper Amor Roxas (center), 46, weeps as she recounts her ordeal after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. Roxas was one of 30 Filipinos deported a day after an amnesty for illegal aliens expired. AFP PHOTO

Filipina domestic helper Amor Roxas (center), 46, weeps as she recounts her ordeal after being expelled from Saudi Arabia. Roxas was one of 30 Filipinos deported a day after an amnesty for illegal aliens expired. AFP PHOTO

Thirty Filipino workers expelled from Saudi Arabia returned home on Monday and alleged they were abused amid a crackdown on illegal migrants there.

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They were among an estimated 6,700 Filipino workers stranded in parts of the oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom where an amnesty for undocumented foreigners ended over the weekend.

“They treated us like animals,” said domestic helper Amor Roxas, 46, who burst in tears while narrating her ordeal.

She claimed that Saudi police rounded them up and placed them in a crowded cell for four days before they were paraded from the immigration center to the airport.

“Our feet were chained,” added Yvonne Montefeo, 32, in between sobs.

Saudi Arabian embassy officials in Manila did not want to comment on the allegation of abuse.

Migrante International, a support group for Filipino overseas workers, said 1,700 other workers remained stranded in Jeddah waiting for their documents to be processed so they can return home while about 5,000 more were scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Dammam and also needing consular assistance.

It warned that the Filipinos “are in danger of being violently dispersed, arrested and detained by Saudi authorities” as the kingdom implements its crackdown.

The Filipinos are among tens of thousands of mostly Asian unskilled workers likely to be expelled, the group said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is also presidential adviser on migrant affairs, last week appealed to the Saudi government to extend its deadline, noting that “thousands are still hoping to correct their employment status”.

“Due to the large number of Filipino workers seeking correction of their employment status, many of them may not be able to meet the Nov 3 deadline,” he said in a letter to King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last week.

The crackdown started early this year, but the Saudi government offered an amnesty to allow the workers to legalize their stay.

Binay said more than 4,000 Filipinos had been repatriated since the crackdown was announced.

About a tenth of the Philippines’ population live and work abroad, and their dollar remittances are a vital pillar of the economy.

A vast majority of them work as unskilled laborers or maids, and are exposed to situations whey they are prone to abuse.

Meanwhile, Rep. Walden Bello, chairman of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, asked the Aquino administration to allot P10 billion, almost the same amount that was allegedly lost in the pork barrel scam involving Janet Lim-Napoles, for the repatriation of thousands of undocumented workers stranded in Saudi Arabia.

The staff of the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia began checking jails, police stations and detention centers in the kingdom as part of government efforts to bring displaced Filipinos home.

Malacanang said on Sunday that the government set aside a P2 billion fund for OFWs in trouble.

The Saudi government said it would begin arresting undocumented workers on Nov.4 (yesterday in Manila).

“We should have a bigger contingency fund for our displaced workers, at least five times the P2- billion amount so as to cover related displacements caused by wars or other events,” Bello said.

“If the administration can fund the Disbursement Acceleration Program, then it should be able to find the resources for this more important fund,” Bello said.

Rep. Winston Castelo of Quezon City agreed with Bello.

“With Saudi Arabia being the single biggest market for OFWs, the number of displaced Filipino workers could be bigger than expected,” Castelo said.

Binay on Monday said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) will assist Filipinos who will be detained in Saudi.

He said foreign workers in Saudi Arabia who have started correcting their residency or work status in the kingdom before the lapse of the Nov. 3 deadline will be allowed to finish the process.

Binay said that the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Jeddah Philippine Consulate have processed 4,530 candidates for repatriation and released travel documents to 10,760 OFWs.

The Vice President assured OFWs still in Saudi Arabia that the government will extend all necessary assistance to them.

AFP WITH REPORTS FROM LLANESCA T. PANTI AND RITCHIE HORARIO

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