Repatriation funds run low as Filipino workers remain stranded abroad

Since March 22 the Philippine government has repatriated more than 56,000 of its nationals, most of whom were left jobless abroad due to the global health emergency. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Repatriation funds run low as Filipino workers remain stranded abroad

  • Up to 167,000 still stuck in host countries

MANILA: Funds for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may run out by the end of August, officials said on Friday.

Since March 22 the Philippine government has repatriated more than 56,000 of its nationals, most of whom were left jobless abroad due to the global health emergency, and nearly 38,000 more are expected to return in the coming weeks.

Official records show that up to 167,000 Filipino workers are currently stranded in their host countries, with 88,000 of them in Saudi Arabia alone.

While the government says it wants to bring home as many of its nationals as soon as possible, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Arriola expressed concerns that the Department of Foreign Affairs’ PHP1 billion ($20 million) assistance fund for workers may be depleted by the end of August.  

She said that approximately 66 percent of the budget had already been spent, with only PHP344 million left.

“Our utilization rate is very high,” she told a hearing at the House committee on public accounts. “A chartered flight costs PHP12 million to PHP13 million per flight, and that is only good for 350 passengers.”

But money is not the only issue in the repatriation process, according to the country's labor secretary. 

“In repatriating our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), we also have to consider the lockdowns imposed by countries where they are working,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement on Saturday, adding that more funds would not bring nationals home in the absence of other equally important factors.

The “lock-ins” and “lock-outs” in infected countries were still a major obstacle, he said, even if the Philippines opened its doors amid its own COVID-19 restrictions. He also pointed out that there were legal impediments tied to the exit visas, loans and cases of Filipino workers wanting to go home.

“It really gets frustrating when foreign employers refuse to give the exit visas of our OFWs to stop them from returning to the Philippines. There are many employers like that abroad. Repatriation of OFWs also becomes difficult to achieve when they still have loans to settle and complaints to face.”

When asked during Friday’s hearing if bigger funds could boost the government's efforts to bring home more migrant workers, Bello said no but that it could save many of them from misery.

On Wednesday, Senator Franklin Drilon insisted during a Senate hearing that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) should use its existing PHP18.8 billion fund to bring home all stranded workers and give them financial and livelihood assistance.

The fund is principally sourced from overseas workers’ membership contributions that could and should be utilized to help migrant workers affected by the pandemic by providing them with adequate assistance, said Drilon, who is a former OWWA chief.


Pakistan Hindus rally in Islamabad over India migrant deaths

Updated 25 September 2020

Pakistan Hindus rally in Islamabad over India migrant deaths

  • The dead migrants’ relatives have held small rallies in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province but this was the first time they had taken their demonstration to the country’s capital
  • The protesters accuse India’s secret service of poisoning the 11 Hindus

ISLAMABAD : Pakistan’s minority Hindus rallied late on Thursday in Islamabad, briefly clashing with the police, to protest the deaths of 11 members of a Hindu migrant family who died in India last month under mysterious circumstances.
Since then, the dead migrants’ relatives have held small rallies in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province but this was the first time they had taken their demonstration to the country’s capital, vowing to stage a sit-in near the Indian Embassy.
The protesters accuse India’s secret service of poisoning the 11 Hindus, who were found dead at a farmhouse in India’s Jodhpur district in Rajasthan state. The demonstrators arrived in Islamabad around midnight, chanting, “We want justice.” They briefly skirmished with officers who prevented them from reaching the embassy site.
After the Aug. 9 deaths, Indian media reports suggested the Hindu family members, originally from Pakistan, had taken their own lives. Official Islamabad says New Delhi had not shared any reports of the case.
Thursday’s rally was an unusual move for Pakistan’s Hindus, who have mostly lived without conflict with the country’s predominantly Muslim majority. Earlier this year under pressure from radical Muslims, Pakistani authorities halted construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad.
Ramesh Kumar, a top leader of the Hindu community who led Thursday’s protest, met on Wednesday with Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, seeking his help in pressuring India to release results of the initial police probe into the case.
Pakistan has also asked for access to a Hindu worker who was at the Jodhpur farm at the time of the deaths, according to government officials.
In his meeting with Qureshi, Kumar said Shrimati Mukhi, the daughter of the head of the family that died, had levelled the poisoning accusations. She earlier this month told local media that India allegedly pressured the family to issue a statement denouncing Pakistan’s government. There was no official comment from India on the allegations.
Last week, Pakistan summoned an Indian diplomat to convey concerns over the “Jodhpur incident.” A subsequent ministry statement said India had “failed to share any substantive details regarding the cause and circumstances of the deaths” of the Hindus and asked for a comprehensive investigation.
Nuclear armed rivals Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations. Pakistan’s military said Wednesday that two of its soldiers were killed by Indian fire in a cease-fire violation in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. The region is split between the two countries but claimed by both in its entirety. India and Pakistan have fought two out of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence in 1947.

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