ABU DHABI // Lured by higher paying jobs, hundreds of skilled Filipino workers in Dubai are illegally entering Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are banned from working, an overseas recruitment expert said.
Many of them are housed in villas provided by recruitment syndicates while they await their visas.
“These overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are undocumented so their rights and welfare are not protected by the Philippine government,” said Emmanuel Geslani from Manila.
Others are tricked into accepting jobs on American military bases in Afghanistan.
“They are supplied with visas to Kabul by unscrupulous Filipinos who work at the bases,” he said. “These syndicates escort the workers inside the bases for a fee.”
Once ensconced in US bases, the workers search for jobs at international companies that deal with US military projects.
Filipinos on tourist visas or those who have finished their work contracts and “want to seek greener pastures” are likely to accept jobs in Iraq, said Delmer Cruz, the labour attache in Dubai.
In July, a Filipino who has an agency in the UAE said many of his compatriots sought his assistance when trying to find work in Iraq.
“The workers were being offered attractive salaries in the construction sector, from US$1,000 (Dh3,672) to $2,000,” he said.
“But I’m not in a position to verify the recruitment documents because the job site is in Iraq.”
Illegal recruitment syndicates operating from Dubai are also hiring skilled workers from central Luzon in the Philippines to work in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Geslani said.
“While the Philippines is working on a bilateral agreement with Iraq, these workers are being offered $2,000 to $5,000 to work in construction and oil rigs,” he said. “But when they arrive in Iraq, they end up getting drastically reduced salaries.”
Filipinos, mostly male, leave the Philippines using Manila, Cebu and Clark airports to travel to the Middle East via Hong Kong or Bangkok, where they pick up entry visas to Dubai or Kabul. They are charged between 50,000 (Dh4,243) and 80,000 pesos by recruiters in the Philippines.
“Their visas are facilitated by recruitment syndicates who pose as travel agents or who connive with Filipinos who claim to be agents for some international companies that have projects in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr Geslani said.
There is an existing deployment ban on Filipinos working in Afghanistan, except for re-hires or those returning to their job sites inside the US facilities.
In July, the Philippine overseas employment administration (Poea) lifted a six-year ban on Filipinos in Iraq.
It allowed returning OFWs or re-hires who have valid Iraqi IDs and work permits to work in certain areas of the country.
The processing and deployment of new hires will resume only after the Philippines signs a bilateral agreement with Iraq, which will include the implementation of guidelines for licensed agencies to send workers to Iraq, Mr Geslani said.
With the assistance of the bureau of immigration, the Poea has stepped up its procedures of issuing and monitoring overseas employment certificates to help combat human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
“Illegal recruitment has been happening for the longest time,” Mr Cruz said. “In the age of the internet, one can check the status of an agency, which decreases one’s chances of being a victim.”
An agency with an active Poea licence means it is allowed by Philippine law to recruit Filipino workers for overseas jobs. The status of an agency may range from good standing, cancelled or suspended.