x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Death sparks call to protect UAE's Filipinos on Kish Island

Rights group asks Philippine government to do more to aid those stranded on Kish Island, awaiting UAE visas.

ABU DHABI // The Philippine government should do more to protect its citizens on Kish Island who are awaiting UAE visas, a workers' rights group has said.

Migrante UAE was alerted via its website about the death of a Filipina on the island on January 24. Members were able to confirm it through contacts in Dubai.

"We learnt she was on a visa run to the island to wait for her employment visa," said Nhel Morona, the UAE country co-ordinator for Migrante Middle East. "On January 23 she left the hotel but failed to return."

The body of the woman, identified as Johanna Hilario Lamo, 29, was later found floating in the bay.

The family did not wish to comment on the circumstances surrounding her death, a friend said in Dubai.

However, the Philippine Embassy in Tehran has been contacted to help facilitate the release and repatriation of the body.

On Thursday, embassy staff said the body had arrived in Tehran on Monday night and that the cause of death was still unknown.

They were still awaiting the police report and death certificate from Kish authorities and an approval for repatriation funds from Manila.

"This could have been prevented," Mr Morona said.

"The flight to Kish is not encouraged," said Jose Jacob, consul general at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi. "But we cannot do anything if Filipinos would like to go there and wait for their visas."

In January 2009, Manila's foreign affairs office issued a travel advisory against using Kish Island as an exit point from the UAE.

"The 2009 advisory still stands but unfortunately remains unheeded," said Frank Cimafranca, the consul general in Dubai. "I believe not much change can happen, even if we expressly ban travel to Kish Island."

He said Filipinos go on visa runs despite the risks involved.

"They'd rather go to Kish than go back to the Philippines due to shame or embarrassment of having failed in their overseas adventure."

Migrante UAE last month said many of the stranded Filipinas had resorted to prostitution on the island. Many are forced to stay in overcrowded hotel rooms and work part-time to pay for lodging and food.

In 2010, Mark Lloyd Carmen, 24, was stabbed to death on a visa run to Kish Island. His body was not repatriated until more than a month after he was killed.

"We should have learnt from that incident," his aunt, Estela Estela Gonzaga, 40, said on Wednesday. "Last year I decided to send my son Jason back to the Philippines after his visa expired instead of sending him to Kish. Now he's back on a new visa."

 

rruiz@thenational.ae