ABU DHABI //More than 500 Filipinos were barred at Manila's main airport last year for carrying spurious travel documents, according to an anti-human trafficking body in Manila.
A report issued by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) said 521 passengers were stopped, including 316 tourist workers, 175 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) without the proper papers, and 30 minors.
It did not provide a breakdown of how many Filipinos on tourist visas were prevented from boarding flights to the UAE.
But the rights group Migrante-UAE cast doubt on the figures. "The number is too low," said Nhel Morona, the group's secretary general. "It can't be that only 316 tourist workers were stopped at our airports last year."
In October, Migrante launched a petition calling for the scrapping of a document that has been blamed for much confusion and cost to Filipinos trying to leave their country.
The document, an affidavit of support, is often presented to border officials as proof that someone else is financing the trip. But it does not guarantee that Filipinos on tourist visas will be allowed to depart - making it all but useless, according to Migrante.
Corrupt officials often allege that the documents are fake, and then demand payment before allowing travellers to fly.
Migrante and other groups have so far gathered 5,000 signatures - half their target - and expect to forward the petition to Manila in April.
Since August 2010, airport immigration officers have been ordered to lookout for victims of human trafficking and to stop them leaving - a process known as "offloading".
"Thousands are being offloaded every month," said Emmanuel Geslani, an overseas recruitment consultant in Manila.
"This causes economic losses for passengers who have to pay a 1,620-peso (Dh135) travel tax and 750 pesos (Dh62) in airport fees each time they leave the country as tourists."
The Bureau of Immigration told a media forum in Manila last year that it had "offloaded" more than 32,000 passengers in the first six months of the year - more than 170 a day.
In October, Jejomar Binay, the vice president of the Philippines, asked the immigration bureau to clarify its offloading policy, after receiving complaints from departing passengers.
He serves as the presidential adviser on OFW affairs, is chairman emeritus of the Iacat, and chairman of a presidential task force on illegal recruitment.
Yesterday, he said Iacat was still waiting for a working group to come up with new offloading guidelines that "minimise the grey areas".
He called on Filipinos to go through the proper channels when seeking employment abroad. He warned that for anyone working abroad illegally, there was "a very high risk that government will not be able to extend immediate assistance, especially in times of need."