x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Filipinos sign petition calling for travel document to be scrapped

Community groups say the affidavit of support and guarantee doesn't stop human trafficking and instead forces people to resort to bribery.

Members of Filipino community groups protest against the affidavit of support and guarantee in Dubai.
Members of Filipino community groups protest against the affidavit of support and guarantee in Dubai.

DUBAI // Twelve Filipino community groups are calling for their government to scrap a document they say imposes unfair costs on their people.

The "affidavit of support and guarantee" is a document presented by Filipinos on tourist visas to airport immigration officers in the Philippines as part of the fight against human trafficking.

Leaders of the 12 groups, which include the rights organisation Migrante-UAE, yesterday crumpled and dumped copies of the document in a bin.

They launched and signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped.

Filipinos in the UAE pay Dh100 to the Philippines embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai to attest the affidavit, but it has not guaranteed that people will be able to travel, forcing some to pay bribes to board a flight.

"We hope to collect 10,000 signatures within one week," said Yuri Cipriano, the chairman of Migrante-UAE. "We believe that more community organisations will support us in this campaign."

After a month, the signatures will be sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration, Philippine Congress and other government departments and agencies in Manila.

Since August last year, immigration officers in the Philippines have been ordered to be on the lookout for suspected victims of human trafficking.

Passengers on tourist visas have responded to the stricter measures by presenting an affidavit of support to show proof of who is financing their trip.

But there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to take their flights. The final call is up to the immigration officer, who must assess a variety of factors when deciding to allow a passenger to depart: the stated purpose of travel their capacity to pay for the trip - even their appearance and demeanour.

Many Filipinos have been barred from boarding their flights and as a result, some have resorted to bribery, or have given in to extortion attempts of up to 30,000 Philippine pesos ($682) by immigration officers.

Jejomar Binay, the Philippines vice-president and chairman emeritus of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), will meet with member-agencies later this month to discuss the Bureau of Immigration's policy of intercepting passengers at the airport and preventing their departure.

"The vice president has asked the bureau to explain the legal basis and to show clearcut guidelines for enforcement of its offloading policy, to minimise the exercise of discretion on the part of its personnel," Joey Salgado, the vice-president's spokesperson said yesterday. "The government is conducting a serious drive against human trafficking, but this should not be at the expense of basic rights, and should be conducted in a transparent manner."

Last month, Rey, a 36-year-old maintenance hotel employee, presented a UAE tourist visa and an affidavit of support notarised by the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

Despite the documents, he was barred from taking his Cathay Pacific flight twice - on September 20 and 22.

The Dubai-based travel agency that processed his visa referred him to two women who had a contact with some immigration officers at the airport.

On his third attempt on September 25, he paid 30,000 pesos to the women outside the airport and they instructed him to queue at a specific immigration counter. But he missed his flight so he was asked to return the next day and was allowed to fly out of the country.

"I had no money but had to borrow so I can leave the country," said the father-of-two from Cavite. "It's so unfair because the money should be spent by my family."

Nhel Morona, the secretary-general of Migrante-UAE, yesterday ¿descibed the affidavit of support as an "an additional cost to Filipinos" and a "useless piece of document".

"Let's face it," he said. "It's a revenue-generating measure of our government. The Philippine government should provide protection to Filipinos overseas instead of collecting fees. Our battlecry should be 'stop state exaction, stop state extortion'."

Jhasmine Castillo-Cipriano is the co-ordinator for the UAE chapter of Gabriela (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership and Action) that supports the campaign.

"Women and children are victims of human trafficking," she said. "But the affidavit of support is not a solution to curb human trafficking. And we need to run after illegal recruiters and immigration officials and they must be held accountable."

rruiz@thenational.ae