The Philippine ambassador to Kuwait says he has received almost 6,000 complaints of abuse towards Filipino workers last year.
The body of Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina maid, found in a freezer in Kuwait last week has highlighted the mistreatment of some domestic workers in the Gulf.
President Rodrigo Duterte banned the further deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Kuwaiti officials have criticised the ban, saying Duterte’s statements have only served to complicate the situation further.
Al Jazeera’s Sami Zeidan reports from Kuwait City.
Kuwait vows justice joanna
The Philippines Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa has revealed the details of the meeting between the Foreign Minister of the Philippines and Kuwait’s Ambassador Saleh Musaed Ahmad Al-Thuwaikh in Manila where they discussed the situation of the Filipinos working in Kuwait.
Villa pointed out the two sides have agreed on the importance of a joint meeting next March to sign a new agreement for domestic workers to ensure their rights are protected and they are prevented from any abuse or physical assault. However, he explained the date and place of the meeting has yet to be determined.
He pointed out 900 Filipino violators of the residence law have already left Kuwait, and more than 1,800 of the 3,000 have been given clearance certificates by the Interior Ministry. He indicated, the embassy expects more violators of the law to leave who wish to benefit from the deadline. Another 113 OFWs arrived on Friday from Kuwait aboard the Philippine Airlines Flight 699.
The Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday the Philippines had asked Kuwait to extend for another three months the amnesty period for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) illegally staying in Kuwait. During their meeting Thursday, Cayetano said the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the Philippines Saleh Musaed Ahmad Al-Thuwaikh has promised to ‘work hard’ to get the Kuwaiti government to grant Manila’s request.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry also proposed that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait retain the passports of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait in order to prevent misuse by some sponsors. Cayetano added salaries of the domestic workers also be paid through the bank and each worker given an ATM card so that it will serve as proof that employees are paid their salaries.
In the meantime, the government of Kuwait has vowed to exert all efforts to bring back the Lebanese husband and his Syrian wife who are suspects in the murder of the 29-year-old Filipino maid Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment earlier this month.
This assurance was given by Cayetano when he met the sister of the deceased and her brother at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Friday who had arrived in Manila to receive her remains.
“I spoke to the Kuwaiti ambassador yesterday and they promised they will do everything to bring the accused to justice. Her death was very tragic, but will also be a rallying point for all government agencies to be more aggressive in helping OFWs,” he said, referring to overseas Filipino workers. Jessica, sister of Filipina murder victim sobbed as she clutched the casket when it arrived Friday at the international airport in Manila.
Demafelis’ death triggered the Philippine government to declare the total ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait and Cayetano admitted that the relationship of Philippines and Kuwait were going through a “rocky” period after the deaths of Filipino workers at the hands of their Kuwaiti employers. “We’re going through a very rocky period. We have had very, very good relations with them. In general, they love Filipinos,” he said.
In a news briefing, Cayetano said about 10,000 overstaying OFWs had yet to be flown back from Kuwait. Cayetano said other countries hosting large numbers of migrant Filipino workers had notified the Philippines of their efforts to improve the working conditions of OFWs in their countries “because they saw the determination of our President.” He added: “The only thing we’re asking is the dignity of a human being. Don’t look at the citizenship. We are all humans, so treat us like humans.”
Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Public Authority of Manpower (PAM) is properly playing its due role in protecting workers of different nationalities, the PAM’s spokesman said Saturday.
The PAM is using legal means and specific measures, according to its competence and powers, in order to safeguard the rights of the private sector’s workers, Aseel Al-Mezeid said in a press statement. Al-Mezeid, who doubles as head of the PAM’s public relations and media department, dismissed as “incredible” recent reports about the workers’ rights, along with statements by some countries’ officials on the conditions of their citizens in Kuwait.
The PAM is eager to protect the rights of workers, but it takes into account the necessity of avoiding possible negative effects on projects and governmental contracts, he added.
In this context, several meetings were held between the PAM and representatives of the embassies of the Philippines and India in order to resolve problems regarding some companies’ failure to pay the salaries of their workers, the PAM’s spokesman pointed out.
More than a hundred relatives and supporters of the Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait brandished banners demanding justice as her coffin was returned home on Saturday.
The family of Joanna Demafelis openly wept as the white casket was unloaded at an airport cargo terminal in the central city of Iloilo. “Justice for Joanna D. Demafelis,” was emblazoned on banners and on T-shirts worn by the crowd which included a congressman and local officials expressing their anger over the death of the Filipina whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this month.
The incident worsened a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and Kuwait with President Rodrigo Duterte alleging that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. He has also banned the deployment of new workers to Kuwait and ordered airlines to fly home any of the 252,000 Filipinos working there who wish to return.
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy. Their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.