Philippines lifts ban for Kuwait-bound workers

Filipino workers returning home from Kuwait fill out forms upon their arrival at Manila International Airport on February 18. The Philippines earlier banned the deployment of new workers to the Gulf country after the murder of a Filipina maid, who was found in her employer’s freezer. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2018
0

Philippines lifts ban for Kuwait-bound workers

  • Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers
  • Contract renewals should be approved by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, instead of being automatic

MANILA: The Philippines on Wednesday lifted its ban on migrant workers heading to jobs in Kuwait, capping a diplomatic row sparked when a murdered Filipino maid was found in her employer’s freezer.
The news comes days after Kuwait and the Philippines inked a deal to regulate and protect the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who seek higher-paid employment in the wealthy Gulf state.
The spat, simmering for months, reached its lowest point in April when Kuwaiti authorities expelled Manila’s envoy over videos showing embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee allegedly abusive bosses in Kuwait.
“President (Rodrigo Duterte) directed me to lift the ban totally... both for the domestic and skilled professionals,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.
“The president deemed that our overseas workers are protected in Kuwait and he will no longer see incidents of maltreatment, hopefully.”
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry.
They are among the millions of its citizens the Philippines has sent to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation.
The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.
Duterte in February prohibited workers from heading to Kuwait when domestic helper Joanna Demafelis’s corpse was discovered in a freezer in her employer’s home.
The president lashed out at Kuwait, alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipino workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
Relations appeared to recover after a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for Demafelis’s killing.
Following the verdict, Duterte announced plans to visit Kuwait to seal an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for the Filipinos working in the Gulf nation.
But after the rescue videos were released by the Philippine foreign ministry and Manila’s ambassador was ordered out of Kuwait, relations plunged again.
Duterte declared on April 30 that the ban on Filipino workers leaving for the Gulf nation was permanent and urged his citizens to come home if they were being mistreated.
Kuwait sought to calm the confrontation a day later, calling it largely the result of a misunderstanding. Tensions quickly cooled and the two nations on Friday reached an agreement on worker protections.
“Even our labor diplomacy has improved and our relationship and diplomatic ties are now stronger,” Bello said on Wednesday.
A copy of the agreement seen by AFP says that workers will be allowed to keep their passports and cellphones — often confiscated by employers.
It stipulates that contract renewals should be approved by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, instead of being automatic.
Employers must also provide domestic workers with food, housing, clothing and health insurance, according to the document.
The lot of migrant workers is a sensitive issue in the Philippines that gets used domestically for political purposes.
The government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.


Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018
0

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.