Philippines says more than 2,200 citizens in Kuwait want to go home

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A Filipino worker who was repatriated from Kuwait carries her child upon arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines February 12, 2018. (Reuters)
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Filipino workers who were repatriated from Kuwait fill out labor-related papers upon arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines February 12, 2018. (Reuters)
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Filipino workers who were repatriated from Kuwait fill out labor-related papers upon arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila in the Philippines February 12, 2018. (Reuters)
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shows a photo of a Filipino worker in Kuwait during a press conference in Davao City, in the southern island of Mindanao on February 9, 2018. (AFP)
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Filipino workers who were repatriated from Kuwait take part in a dialogue with a Department of Labour official at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines February 12, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 12 February 2018

Philippines says more than 2,200 citizens in Kuwait want to go home

MANILA: Philippines Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a press briefing said that around Overseas Filipino workers have arrived in Manila on Monday morning.
“They belong to the first batch of Filipinos who where allowed after applying for amnesty after overstaying their stays or escaping their employers,” Roque said.
“Those who were repatriated would be given financial assistance [amountin] P5,000 (SR366) and a further P20,000 assistance for alternative livelihood.”
More than 2,200 Filipinos are ready to take up President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to repatriate workers from Kuwait due to reports of abuse, the Philippine labor minister said on Sunday.
Duterte asked Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific on Friday to provide flights for Filipinos who want to leave Kuwait, after a body of a Filipino worker was found in a freezer of an abandoned apartment.
“We have been informed that as of Friday there were 2,200-plus Filipinos who are willing to go home,” Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III told Reuters, adding that some of them had overstayed their visas and applied for an amnesty.
The airlines have arranged free charter flights, and Bello said almost 500 Filipino workers were due to arrive soon.
The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait in January after reports that abuse by employers had driven several to suicide. Duterte said on Friday that that suspension would remain indefinitely.
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah expressed “surprise and sorrow” at Duterte’s remarks in January, saying that legal proceedings had been taken in the cases of the four suicide cases mentioned by the president.
More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The government would help repatriated workers look for jobs, Bello said.
“We are into a re-integration program, we have a program in place for them,” he told the ANC news channel. “They will be given a livelihood.”
“We are now in the process of looking for alternative markets. One of them is China and even Russia,” he said, without elaborating.
(With Reuters)


Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 17 October 2019

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.