Philippines to maintain ban on sending workers to Kuwait

Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III (C), Undersecretary for Workers Protection, Human Resource, and Internal Auditing Services Cluster in the Filipino Department of Labour, speaks during a meeting with the Filipino community at his country's embassy in Kuwait City on February 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Philippines to maintain ban on sending workers to Kuwait

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.


India Hindu temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

Updated 59 min 47 sec ago
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India Hindu temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

  • More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, line routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state
  • About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday

PAMBA, India: Indian police mounted a huge security operation Friday to ensure women can safely access a flashpoint Hindu temple, after battles erupted the first time they attempted to enter following a historic court ruling.
More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, lined routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state, which traditionalists are trying to prevent women from reaching.
The Supreme Court ruled in September that a ban on women aged between 10 and 50 entering the temple was illegal. Sabarimala has since become a showdown issue for gender activists and Hindu hard-liners.
About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday ahead of the start of a Hindu festival beginning on Saturday.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees were expected to make the four-hour trek up a hill to Sabarimala during the festival which lasts until mid-January.
On Friday morning hundreds of demonstrators at Kerala’s Kochi airport tried to stop leading activist Trupti Desai from leaving for Sabarimala.
“We tried to hire taxis several times but the agitators are not allowing them to take us. They have threatened violence if they do,” Desai told Indian television.
“Even police said they cannot help us go out of the airport right now because the number of protesters is swelling and they are resorting to violence,” she said.
“A while back they tried to take us out from a back door but the protesters spotted us and attacked the cars.”
On the roads around the temple, 150 kilometers south of Kochi, police meanwhile set up barricades to check cars.
“We will deploy over 15,200 police around the temple for the entire season up to January 15,” Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar said.
In mid-October, when the temple opened for the first time since the court ruling, hardliners clashed with police and prevented women from accessing the site.
They threw stones at the police and assaulted female journalists and attacked their cars. Some 2,000 people were later arrested.
Police in riot gear had escorted two women to within 500 meters (yards) of the temple but were forced to turn around.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said its followers were unfairly targeted in the arrests.
“The BJP supports the devotees,” the BJP president in Kerala, P.S Sreedharan Pillai, said.
The state is run by a communist government and Pillai added: “The communists are atheists and want to destroy the Sabarimala temple culture,” Pillai said.
Activists say that the ban at Sabarimala reflects an old view that connects menstruation with impurity.
The traditionalists argue that women are allowed in most Hindu temples and the practice at Sabarimala is part of their tradition, and not anti-women.
This time the state government is determined to ensure that women get the upper hand.
Press reports said the police were even considering using helicopters to take women to the site.
Late Thursday the state government called a meeting of all political parties in a bid to reach an agreement on letting women into the temple on certain days.
But the talks ended late Thursday in an acrimonious failure.
“We are at a standstill and now the situation is becoming even worse,” said Sasikumar Varma, a top representative of the Pandalam royal family that has been traditionally involved in the temple’s management.
“The government stuck to its stance of allowing women’s entry and we are opposed to it.”