x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Filipinos tell of bribes to leave home port

Dubai residents tell of paying off officials in Philippines to be allowed to leave their country.

DUBAI // Filipinos seeking to travel to the UAE on tourist visas are bribing officials at Manila airport to let them leave the country.

The practice has become common since Manila international airport increased its screening last August. Immigration officials have been ordered to watch for suspected victims of human trafficking and stop them leaving the Philippines.

Filipino tourists travelling to the Emirates have to obtain a visa in advance, usually through a UAE travel agency. A two-month tourist visa costs about Dh1,750, while one month is Dh850.

On July 2, the Philippines immigration bureau said stricter screening would apply, especially of those heading to countries with large Filipino populations such as the UAE.

Ricardo David Jr, the immigration commissioner, was quoted in media as saying "illegal recruiters usually disguise their victims as tourists to circumvent the ban on the departure of undocumented OFWs [overseas Filipino workers]".

As a result, some Filipinos have resorted to bribery. A Filipino in Dubai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had paid 12,000 pesos (Dh1,027) to a police officer at Manila airport on May 24.

Despite having a tourist visa the man, aged 30, was twice barred from boarding his flight.

On May 15, he presented an affidavit of support to prove a relative was financing the trip. But the immigration officer asked for more documents, including an employment certificate, his company ID and a copy of his income tax return.

Immigration officers are required to assess the purpose of travel and the capacity of the traveller to pay for the trip. They also assess appearance and demeanour.

The man presented all of the documents on May 23, but was again prevented from travelling.

"The officer said I had insufficient funds since I only had US$700 (Dh2,571)," he said.

He said that when he went to collect his luggage, he met a group who had also been barred from leaving the country for the Emirates.

"My uncle in Singapore knew a police officer at the airport who had connections with the immigration so I decided to give it a try," he said.

On May 24, he was asked to wait near the immigration counters.

"The police officer spoke to an immigration officer and instructed me to queue at a specific counter to present my documents," he said.

After receiving a departure stamp on his passport, he was escorted to the departure gate.

A 32-year-old Filipina office worker in Dubai said a travel agent in the emirate who knew an airport immigration officer in Manila convinced her that if she paid Dh2,100 she would not be stopped at the airport.

"I wanted to leave the country without any hassle," she said. "I was left with no choice but to pay."

She did not meet the immigration officer, with whom she communicated by SMS on March 2. "He asked me to describe what I was wearing and directed me to the counter where I should queue."

A Filipino civil engineer, 34, said he had been stopped at the airport on June 20 but left for Dubai two days later after paying 20,000 pesos to an immigration "contact".

They met in the car park at Manila airport, where he paid the money.

"He drew a sketch and advised me where to go and who to speak to," the engineer said. "He warned me that an immigration officer may stop me at the departure gate, told me when I'm supposed to enter and made sure I boarded my flight.

"We can easily recover the money when we start working here."

But Amilbahar Amilasan, the Philippines labour attache in Dubai, said workers should ensure they had the legal documents before heading to the UAE.

They can apply through a recruitment agency accredited by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration so their rights are protected, Mr Amilasan said.

"If a worker has a problem with his employer, the agency who sent him abroad may be held accountable," he said.

rruiz@thenational.ae