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

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.

HRW criticizes Italy, EU’s Libya migrant policy

Updated 29 min 48 sec ago

HRW criticizes Italy, EU’s Libya migrant policy

  • Rights group says that unquestioning foreign support for Libya leads to migrants being held in “arbitrary, abusive detention”

CAIRO: Human Rights Watch is urging Italy and the EU to condition their support to Libya on tangible improvements in detention conditions for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The New York-based rights group says in a report Monday that unquestioning foreign support for Libya’s coast guard leads to migrants being held in “arbitrary, abusive detention.”

It condemned such efforts to stem migration to Europe as contributing “to a cycle of extreme abuse” against people fleeing war and poverty.

The report documents “severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of adequate health care” in detention centers, including at least four instances of violent abuse by guards.

It says children have also been seen to be held in poor conditions.

Millions of migrants have applied for asylum in Europe, but some countries have toughened their asylum laws and tried to deport more people than they did previously.

On Sunday, a private rescue boat carrying dozens of migrants said that for a second day several nations had not given permission for it to enter a safe port, while another vessel filled with panicky migrants and described as taking on water in the southern Mediterranean was helped by a cargo ship.

The Dutch-flagged boat Sea-Watch 3, run by a German non-governmental group, said it had contacted Italy, Malta, Libya and the Netherlands asking where it could land the 47 migrants it had taken aboard. Sea-Watch tweeted that Libyan officials hung up when it asked for a port assignment.

An Italian state TV reporter aboard Sea-Watch 3 said the rescue took place Saturday about 50 km off the coast west of Tripoli in Libya’s search-and-rescue area. Libya-based human traffickers launch flimsy or rickety boats crowded with migrants hoping to reach Europe and its opportunities for better lives.