MANILA: The Philippine government said it is now working to bring home some 200 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Riyadh who lost their jobs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) administrator Hans Cacdac, in a TV interview on Thursday, said that given the workers’ current situation, “they must be repatriated, first and foremost.”
The OWWA official said that their target is to repatriate the migrant workers within a month, although this will depend on their exit visas. Cacdac expressed confidence, however, in the cooperation of the Saudi government with regard to processing the visas.
“We are now processing their cases so they can be included in the next batch of repatriates,” Cacdac said.
He also assured that the workers’ recruitment agency would be held accountable for not taking steps to provide assistance to the OFWs.
“We have already brought the matter before the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration,” Cacdac said.
For their immediate needs, Cacdac said the OFWs would receive food assistance from the Philippine Labor Office in Riyadh while waiting for their repatriation.
The office had to suspend operations after six of its officers and staff tested positive for COVID-19, but they still continue to respond to calls and provide services to Filipino workers.
Reynan Bancorro, one of the 200 OFWs to be repatriated, said that he had been out of work since lockdown was imposed last March.
Bancorro is among a group of OFWs working in an aluminum company. They have been out of work for three months now.
Cacdac said that those who were forced to pawn their passports would be provided with a travel document by the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.
Meanwhile, the 353 additional Filipinos from Jeddah and other parts in the western region of Saudi Arabia have returned to Manila on Thursday on board a chartered Philippine Airlines flight arranged by the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah.
Seventy-six of the 353 passengers were female wards from the Philippine Consulate’s “Bahay Kalinga” migrant shelter. Four have medical conditions but were certified as fit to travel, and two were minors. The rest of the passengers were OFWs who were economically displaced and became stranded in the Kingdom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.