x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Jobs scam strands workers in Kandahar

More than 20 Filipinos have been stranded in Afghanistan for four months after being lured from Dubai with fake job offers.

More than 20 Filipinos have been stranded in Afghanistan for four months after being lured from Dubai with fake job offers.

All were in the UAE with expired visas and were desperate for work, said Emmanuel Geslani, an overseas recruitment consultant in Manila and a spokesman for the Filipinos in Afghanistan group.

According to a letter sent to Mr Geslani by one of the workers, they were hired in Dubai in January by a Filipino couple who said they were contractors in Afghanistan.

They claimed RmR Construction Company, which is owned by Filipinos, had jobs waiting for them at the Kandahar Air Force base.

The workers were asked to pay US$1,400 (Dh5,142) each, plus the fines for overstaying their visas, to travel to Afghanistan for construction jobs. But when they arrived, they learned RmR did not have any new projects and the jobs did not exist

The Filipino who told Mr Geslani about the workers' plight now works for another company on the base, but most of the others are stranded, forced to sleep in tents and beg for food and water from compatriots at the base.

Another man said the couple hired him as marketing and operations manager in December. He paid $500 for his ticket to Afghanistan but just three months later was fired and sent back to Dubai.

"They were not paying us our salaries for three months," he said. "A company wanted to hire me but they sent me back to Dubai."

He said the 25 workers from Dubai arrived between January and March. In Dubai, they were required to sign a waiver that they were willing to pay $1,400 in travel expenses and would not file any complaints against RmR.

"The company should take them out of the base and bring them back to Dubai," Mr Geslani said. "Then the workers can ask help from consulate officials to send them home."

He said there was no reason for RmR, which did not have a licence to recruit them, to keep them there.

Jose Jacob, the Philippine consul general in Abu Dhabi, said the workers should seek help from the Philippine Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan.

"The embassy can send someone to visit them," Mr Jacob said. "The workers can also write to us and inform us about their conditions so we can take it up officially with the embassy in Pakistan."

But most of them are afraid to do so. "They fear that once they complain, they would be flown back to Dubai and provided with fake air tickets to Manila," said Mr Geslani. "They would rather wait for job vacancies instead of returning to the Philippines."

Mr Jacob responded that if they did not complain, "we can't protect them or prevent anything untoward from happening to them".

Nhel Morona, the secretary general of the workers' right group Migrante-UAE, said the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai should consider co-ordinating with UAE immigration authorities to ensure Filipinos were not illegally sent from the UAE to Afghanistan.

"They can ask the immigration authorities to alert them of Filipino passengers who are bound for Afghanistan," Mr Morona said.

In September last year, the Philippine government partially lifted the ban on sending Filipinos to Afghanistan. Workers with existing contracts to work at US military facilities can now extend their contracts.

But the Philippine overseas employment administration does not allow new hiring.

About 6,000 Filipinos work on US and Nato bases in Afghanistan, Mr Geslani said.

Mac Roymon Cubelo, an owner of RmR in Afghanistan, denied asking for $1,400 from the workers.

"I only get the jobs and negotiate these jobs with the clients," Mr Cubelo said. "I told the workers before that once you pay an agent, I will not accept you."

He had no further comments.

rruiz@thenational.ae