x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Filipinos who sponsor visiting relatives and bought notarised affidavits of support from travel agencies are being urged by their embassy to come forward. The plea follows concerns that documents are being faked and sold by unscrupulous agencies for a hefty fee.

Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, meets with members of Migrante UAE. Sammy Dallal / The National
Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, meets with members of Migrante UAE. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Filipinos who obtained notarised affidavits of support from travel agencies for a hefty price are being urged to come forward and execute sworn statements.

A cursory review of the affidavits showed the documents appeared to be fake.

Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said on Friday that the embassy had a list of Filipinos who had their affidavits processed at the mission in Abu Dhabi.

Officials said those executing the document must appear in person when applying for notary services. Copies of the documents are being forwarded to the Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines.

The embassy charges Dh100 to notarise the document, which usually takes five working days. For an extra Dh40 it offers an expedited service the same or next day. Applicants must appear in person.

“The affidavit of support indeed breeds corruption and should be scrapped,” said Nhel Morona, the UAE country coordinator for a migrant-rights group, Migrante Middle East.

He said the requirement imposed unfair costs on UAE-bound travellers and did not guarantee that they would be able to depart.

Ms Princesa told members of Migrante UAE that additional requirements on the notarisation of the affidavits would be announced soon.

These will help to minimise the problems associated with the document, including its forgery and sale. She declined to elaborate.

“We are trying to do something to stop the sale of these affidavits,” she said. “These papers are proof of guilt. Who is manufacturing them? But why are those buying notarised affidavits not coming forward to complain?”

Migrante UAE alleged last month it had evidence that proved staff from the embassy were taking cash in return for blank affidavits, an allegation denied by the ambassador yesterday.

The group showed embassy officials what it claimed was evidence that some staff at the embassy were producing blank notarised affidavits complete with time and date-stamped receipts, which unscrupulous agents then give to applicants to fill in, in return for Dh300.

“There are no runners from the Philippine embassy,” Ms Princesa said, referring to the embassy “fixers” believed to have been working with travel agencies. “They are non-existent.”

Migrante UAE investigated the so-called affidavit of support for sale anomaly from November last year to June this year. It found that notarised documents were readily available from at least 10 travel agencies in Dubai for Dh300.

Of the Dh300 agency fee, it claimed the embassy gets Dh100 for the receipt, an embassy “fixer” earns Dh150 and the broker gets a Dh50 share.

The group yesterday requested officials to review the affidavits and receipts it presented, and urged the ambassador to support calls to have the document scrapped.

“We are not in a position to tell Manila to scrap the document,” Ms Princesa said. “We feel that the affidavit serves its purpose to curb human trafficking.”

Since August 2010, immigration officers have been ordered to be on the lookout for suspected victims of human trafficking and to stop them leaving the Philippines.

The majority of the thousands of Filipinos stranded on Kish Island after a visa-run from the UAE are victims of human trafficking, claimed Mr Morona.

“They all presented affidavits of support but why did they end up as victims?” he asked. “Why can’t our government run after those who executed the document?”

Kish Island has for years been a popular destination for those on so-called visa runs to renew their UAE tourist visas or wait for employment visas so they can re-enter the country.

Officials will now form a team to look into the situation on Kish Island, in coordination with the Philippine embassy in Tehran, which has consular jurisdiction over the island.

rruiz@thenational.ae