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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Relief and regret as homesick Filipinos fly home under amnesty

Some have spent more than a decade living in fear of reprisals for remaining in the UAE without a valid visa

A total of 105 Filipino nationals prepare to fly out of Dubai to Manila as part of the UAE's amnesty programme. Reem Mohammed / The National 
A total of 105 Filipino nationals prepare to fly out of Dubai to Manila as part of the UAE's amnesty programme. Reem Mohammed / The National 

More than 100 Filipinos flew home on Wednesday as part of the UAE’s continuing amnesty programme.

The packed flight took off from Dubai shortly before 9pm and was expected to land in Manila in the early hours of today. On board were a total of 105 Filipinos all with a variety stories of their time in the Middle East, and with different reasons for leaving.

Some flew willingly after being away from the Philippines for a decade, while others were more reluctant, leaving family members behind.

“This is a huge blessing for us as we can now go home without fear of being put in jail,” said Crispina Jamero, 55, who had been working in Dubai as a cleaner for the past four years without a valid visa.

“It will be the first time I’ve seen my children for four years and the first time that I’ve ever met my seven-month-old granddaughter.”

Families and friends await the flight home to the Philippines. Reem Mohammed/The National
Families and friends await the flight home to the Philippines. Reem Mohammed/The National

The three-month amnesty began on August 1 and will end on October 31. Residents who have overstayed visas will be allowed to leave the country without a fine or a jail term.

In the first days of this programme, official figures suggested more than 10,000 people said they wished to take advantage of the initiative.

Speaking to The National as she waited to board her flight, Ella Tomalyon, 40, said she had been living in Dubai for five years without a valid visa.

Ms Tomalyon said she made ends meet by working as a part-time caterer and dressing up as Disney characters for children’s birthday parties. “I didn’t want to have to hide any more,” she said. “I am happy because it will be the first time I see my family in six years.”

But for others, the prospect of leaving the UAE on the nine-hour flight home came with mixed emotions.

“I have been here for 10 years and I am really sad because all my family are in the country,” said Erica Delos Santos, 18.

“I have no choice because the company my mother works for in the UAE went bankrupt and there is no visa any more for me. I have overstayed for three years but now I will be living in Laguna with my grandfather.”

Reem Mohammed/The National
Reem Mohammed/The National

Yesterday was also emotional for the families and friends of those leaving, who went to the airport to wish them goodbye.

“I’m here to help my friend who is 60 years old, who has been living here without a visa or passport for 15 years,” one Filipino woman said.

She said her friend’s passport had been stolen and that resolving the issue proved impossible.

“There was never any proper instruction or help,” she said. “Some of the police couldn’t speak English and communication was difficult.

“This amnesty gives hope to my fellow countrymen that they can now go home safely. Many were afraid to even go outside in case they were arrested.”

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Read more:

UAE domestic workers with expired visas tell their story

Embassies taken aback by numbers seeking amnesty

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Paul Cortes, consul general at the Philippine consulate in Dubai, said every person on last night’s flight would have faced visa charges under normal circumstances.

Mr Cortes said the Philippine government had decided to cover the costs of those seeking amnesty, including airfares and exit paper fees, amounting to about Dh2,300 for each person. Each was also given a $100 (Dh367) gift by the embassy, he said.

“Since the start of August there have been more than 300 Philippine nationals who have been issued exit permits by the authorities of the UAE as part of the amnesty programme,” Mr Cortes said.

“We are here to see them off and wish them luck as they are reunited with loved ones and families. The next group of residents will be repatriated on August 25.”