ABU DHABI // A Filipino labour official says the involvement of UAE authorities should speed up the process of sending home domestic helpers who leave their employers over claims of mistreatment.
"The host government wants to help us reduce the number of housemaids in our shelter," Nasser Munder, the labour attache with the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said yesterday.
"The authorities will negotiate with the sponsors and help repatriate those who do not have pending cases with the police and the courts."
There are 124 women at the Filipino Workers Resource Centre - a makeshift shelter at the new Philippine Embassy and Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Al Bateen - who have fled their employers' homes over a variety of complaints including lack of food and sleep, overwork and not being paid.
Most are waiting for their visas to be cancelled and for their passports to be retrieved from their former employers.
A meeting between embassy officials and the UAE authorities was held in the capital this month to discuss how to handle absconding workers, Mr Munder said.
As a result of that meeting, the maids will now be sent from the shelter to a holding centre at Al Wathba Central Prison while UAE authorities conduct negotiations with their former sponsors.
Mr Munder said that though the address was on Al Wathba prison premises, the maids would be staying at the deportation centre before their eventual repatriation.
Clearance from immigration is required for the women to return home. Absconding maids who stayed in the deportation centre were likely to be repatriated much earlier than those in the shelter, he said.
The deportation centre stopped accepting absconding housemaids after the UAE amnesty for illegal residents. More than 340,000 people left the country or regularised their visas during the amnesty from June to November, 2007.
Further delaying the process is that most of the housemaids have abscondment cases filed against them by their sponsors, who still hold their passports. Others are being asked by their sponsors to reimburse the cost of recruiting them from the Philippines - money the maids and their families back home do not have.
"Whenever we try to contact and mediate with the sponsor, they have generally been unco-operative," Mr Munder said. "The UAE authorities will greatly help us to solve this problem. The UAE authorities would like to clear the country of illegal workers and we are now screening those who have been here for four to six months. It is our priority to send them home as soon as possible, as long as they do not have any pending cases."
Mr Munder said the move followed a meeting on September 19 between Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, other Filipino labour and embassy officials, and Maj Gen Nasser al Minhali, the acting assistant undersecretary for the Abu Dhabi Department of Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs. At that meeting, immigration officials promised to help speed up the process of repatriating housemaids stranded at the shelter after leaving their employers.
The embassy plans to repatriate 50 housemaids next month, and more women are expected to be sent home in the first quarter of next year with the help of the host government, according to Mr Munder. The centre receives a steady flow of new cases every month.
There are 30,000 household workers from the Philippines working in the country, a fraction of the 500,000 to 600,000 Filipinos who live and work in the UAE, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in Manila.