x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Labour office overrun by stranded Filipinas

Filipino officials have asked the UAE Government to help them repatriate more than 100 women living in a makeshift shelter.

ABU DHABI // Filipino officials have asked the UAE Government to help them repatriate more than 100 women living in a makeshift shelter. The Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Abu Dhabi has been overwhelmed by 120 women, mostly housemaids, who have left their jobs complaining of lack of food and sleep, maltreatment, overwork or not being paid.

They are being fed and counselled by labour and welfare officials. Some have been at the shelter for as long as three months. At least four women arrive at the shelter every day, while others leave, but the number of women stranded at any one time generally stays over 100. Most of the women either do not have the money to pay for an air ticket or their passports are still with their employers so, without an exit pass, they cannot leave the country. Others are still waiting for months of back pay.

Nasser Munder, the labour attaché in Abu Dhabi, said Philippine embassy officials would send a note verbale - an unsigned diplomatic letter - to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We would like them to intervene by requesting the immigration authorities to cancel the visas of these women and to issue them with an exit pass," he said. The cost of visa cancellation and an exit pass recently increased in Abu Dhabi to Dh212 (US$57.60) from Dh162. It remains the same at Dh300 in Al Ain.

Last year, the embassy was told to write to the Abu Dhabi Naturalisation and Residency Department about such cases, asking that women with airline tickets but no passports be allowed to stay at the Al Wathba deportation centre until they were repatriated. Clearance from immigration is required for the women to return home. Absconding maids who stayed in the deportation centre were likely to be repatriated much earlier than those in the shelter, Mr Munder said.

The Philippine Labour Office planned to repatriate 50 of the women this month after Joseph Estrada, the former Philippine president, visited the shelter on June 9 and offered to pay for their tickets. But Mr Munder said he had received an e-mail from a staff member of Mr Estrada's son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, saying the women might not be able to fly home until next month. "The repatriation of the 50 women here in Abu Dhabi has been postponed to the end of September," Mr Munder said.

He had earlier said that Senator Estrada might visit the capital again this month and take the women with him on a flight back to Manila. "The trip of the senator to Abu Dhabi is likely to be rescheduled," he said, adding: "We don't mind the delay. It will give us more time to prepare and perhaps repatriate all of the women with the help of the UAE Government." It would not be the first time the Estrada family had helped to repatriate workers stranded at the shelter.

In July last year, Senator Estrada paid for flights home for 30 Filipinas who were living in shelters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. During a stopover in the capital in April, while returning from a trip to Ethiopia, he also helped to pay for air tickets for 10 Filipina housemaids from Abu Dhabi to Manila. rruiz@thenational.ae