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Philippines to maintain ban on sending workers to Kuwait

Written by Staff

MANILA: The Philippines is maintaining its ban on deploying workers to Kuwait, despite the arrest of the employers of a Filipino worker found dead in a freezer in the Gulf state, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said on Monday.
“We certainly appreciate the arrest” of Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun, said Roque.
But “in addition to the arrest, we would like to see them prosecuted and punished for the murder of Joanna (Demafelis),” he added. “As of now, the deployment ban stays.”
Her employers were arrested last Thursday in Syria, where they fled after leaving Kuwait last year.
Citing information received by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, Foreign Minister Alan Cayetano said Hassoun is now in the custody of authorities in Damascus, while Assaf has been turned over to Lebanese authorities.
They are the main suspects in the murder of Demafelis, 29, whose body was found in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait earlier this month. The apartment had been abandoned by her employers in 2016.
Her death sparked outrage in the Philippines, prompting Duterte to impose a ban on deploying Filipino workers to Kuwait.
Meanwhile, as the ban enters its fifth week, hundreds of affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are appealing to the Philippine government.
Recruitment consultant and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani has urged Labor Minister Silvestre Bello to reconsider the decision to maintain the ban, which includes skilled workers.
“These skilled workers are oil and gas engineers, IT professionals, nurses, medical and laboratory technicians, store managers, sales personnel, communication technicians, maintenance personnel, electricians, plumbers and carpenters who have been issued visas and are just awaiting their plane tickets from their employers,” Geslani told Arab News.
Since the ban was imposed on Jan. 22, “the world has stopped for them for the past month with no solution in sight,” he said.
“The skilled workers who were recruited and processed by licensed agencies deploying to Kuwait have already resigned from their jobs after being selected for the jobs in Kuwait,” he added.
“Many of them pleaded with… Bello that since they had resigned, they practically have no more income to support their families (and) they are looking forward to their deployment to Kuwait, which offered them three to four times higher than their present salaries,” said Geslani.
“If the impasse on the deployment ban continues for the next month, recruitment agencies fear that the visas for the skilled workers will expire, including their medical results, which are only good for three months,” he added.
“Once the visas expire and the principal does not extend them, the foreign jobs are definitely lost for the workers, who are now jobless with no hope of returning to their former jobs.”
Some 300 affected skilled workers sought an audience with Bello last week, and appealed to him to lift the deployment ban for their sector.
Geslani said Bello told them he is waiting for Kuwait’s government to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that adds protection guarantees for OFWs, but the skilled workers told the minister that they are adequately covered by the Gulf state’s labor laws.
When asked if he would recommend lifting the ban following the arrest of the suspects in the Demafelis murder case, Bello said: “It will be the president who will decide on that.” If Kuwait signs the MoU, “there is a possibility that the president might lift the ban.”
There are currently 270,000 OFWs in the Gulf state — almost 150,000 household service workers, and the rest skilled workers.
Geslani said there will be a drop in remittances of more than $1.3 billion from Kuwait if Manila carries out its threat of a permanent deployment ban.
He also expressed concern that the ban could harm the Philippines’ friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Yemen, which in total host 2.2 million Filipinos who send annual remittances of almost $28 billion.

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