x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Diplomats visit Filipinos stranded in Buraimi

Diplomats from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat visited Filipinos in Buraimi in the latest effort to clearing the backlog of stranded people waiting for visas from the UAE.

ABU DHABI // Diplomats from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat visited Filipinos in Buraimi last week, in the latest effort aimed at clearing the backlog of people who have been stranded there since September waiting for visas from the UAE. Of the 65 people they met at the Buraimi Hotel, eight chose to return to the Philippines and four said they had no preference between going home or back to the UAE, said Adelio Cruz, the consul at the Philippines Embassy.

"The rest remained determined to wait for their re-entry visas to the UAE," he said. "Only 10 per cent were waiting for their employment visas, while the rest were waiting for tourist visas." A pregnant Filipina was among those who asked to go home. "She was only 22 years old," said Nasser Munder, the labour attaché in Abu Dhabi. "She was among the few Filipinos who had asked to be repatriated to the Philippines."

The consular team also met Ahmad al Farsi, the deputy chief of the consular department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oman. Mr Farsi supported the team's proposal to allow the repatriation of stranded Filipinos through Muscat airport, should the need arise. He said the number of Filipinos still travelling to Buraimi seemed to have declined. In September, about 2,000 Filipinos were stranded in Buraimi. They were among thousands of expatriates who were unable to return to the UAE after making a once-standard run to renew their visitor visas - a practice that was restricted for many nationalities by a new law. There are now 500 to 600 Filipinos stranded in the border town, in addition to hundreds in Iran.

Mr Munder said about 150 Filipinos were staying in the Buraimi Hotel when the consular team visited them. "They claimed they had debts to pay in the Philippines, and couldn't face their families," Mr Munder said. "Most have spent 70,000 Philippine pesos (Dh5,203) for their trip to Dubai. "Others had to sell their properties. One Filipino even said he had to sell three of his carabaos [water buffalos].

"We asked those waiting for employment visas to write their names and companies so that the Philippine labour office in Dubai could follow up with their sponsors." Many were reluctant to disclose the names of their travel agencies, fearing reprisal. "They feared that the agencies won't process their new visas to re-enter Dubai," he said. Mr Cruz, at the Philippines Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said the consular team had advised the Filipinos to consider waiting for their visas in the Philippines and not to "blindly believe in stories of other Filipinos who allegedly re-entered the UAE after spending only three to four days at the border".

The diplomats also asked them to check if the travel agency processing their tourist visas was suspended or blacklisted by the Dubai immigration authorities, and to consider seeking employment in Oman. rruiz@thenational.ae