x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Filipino officials look for ways to help amnesty seekers return home

Filipino consulate officials may tap government's funds to pay for the flights of amnesty seekers looking to return home.

Approval for repatriation tickets for ‘emergency’ cases normally takes about two weeks, Frank Cimafranca says.
Approval for repatriation tickets for ‘emergency’ cases normally takes about two weeks, Frank Cimafranca says.

DUBAI // Filipino consulate officials may tap government's funds to pay for the flights of amnesty seekers looking to return home.

"It is a possibility," said Frank Cimafranca, the new consul-general in Dubai. "It takes time to source the funds since we need to request Manila for it.

Approval for repatriation tickets for "emergency" cases normally takes about two weeks. A request to provide air tickets to needy Filipinos seeking amnesty, however, is not classified as an emergency and may take more time.

Since the start of the amnesty on December 4, 100 to 120 Filipinos have turned up daily at the consulate to apply for a travel document or an extension on their passport's validity.

Of the 400,000 Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, "thousands" are expected to seek amnesty.

However, Mr Cimafranca said: "I do not wish to speculate on a figure. For me, it has no real significance."

The consul-general said he has "mixed feelings" about the number of Filipino amnesty seekers who wish to return home and those who want to regularise their residency status.

"If I see so many Filipinos availing of the amnesty, I would be happy for those who now have the chance to be with their families after overstaying for so long," he said. "On the other hand, if I see a few of them, it can be an indication that few are having problems here."

Like the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai consulate will also waive fees for travel documents and passport extension of amnesty seekers who are returning home. This does not apply to those who wish to regularise their visas and stay in the UAE after paying of fines.

From December 4, UAE Government penalties will be waived for illegal residents who visit residency departments with a valid passport and a flight ticket home.

But the high cost of airline tickets and fear that they could end up being prosecuted have so far prevented many from applying for amnesty.

"Many Filipinos who are illegally working here will wait at the last minute to apply for amnesty," said Susan Malaluan, 42, a former housemaid in Dubai who fled her Sudanese employer's home in 2008. "I know of some who are afraid that they'll get arrested, while others want to earn some money to pay for their air tickets."

She has since worked part-time cleaning homes of airline staff at Dh30 per hour.

"I've not been home for four years and want to spend Christmas with my family," said Mrs Malaluan who has two sons, aged 22 and 14, and an 8-year-old daughter.

However, a one-way air ticket to Manila costs about Dh3,300 this month. "I'll wait until after the new year to buy my ticket," she said.

A 29-year-old glass installer who also applied for a travel document yesterday said he has not been home in eight years. He arrived in Dubai in 2004 and left a company that paid him Dh800 a month three years later. He is now earning about Dh3,000 a month at various part-time jobs.

"My parents have urged me to go home," he said. "I would like to leave next week but the tickets are very expensive."

Mr Cimafranca said the consulate is in talks with travel agencies to provide special rates for amnesty seekers. He hoped many would be able to fly home after the peak period.

"They need to apply for amnesty as early as possible," he said. "The FilCom can help identify those in need, and some members are willing to provide tickets."

FilCom, which represents groups in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, has begun disseminating information on the amnesty programme through websites and social networking sites.

rruiz@thenational.ae