x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Philippines may revise unclear immigration rules

Travellers are often left at the mercy of corrupt officials.

ABU DHABI // The government of the Philippines will form a working group to ensure that travellers leaving the country by air are not exposed to a system that is unfair and degrading.

In August last year, immigration officers in the Philippines were ordered to look out for suspected victims of human trafficking and stop them leaving - a process known as "offloading".

But there is a lack of clarity about the paperwork required to secure departure, giving border officers the power to turn people away.

As a result, there have been widespread reports of bribery and extortion by Filipinos keen to secure their exit and border officials no less keen to make a quick buck.

Leila De Lima, the Philippine justice secretary, has instructed the immigration bureau and other members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) to form a group to refine the policy.

Joey Salgado, a spokesman for Jejomar Binay, the vice-president and chairman emeritus of Iacat, said Mr Binay had been tasked with devising "a clear-cut and comprehensive" system.

Last week Mr Binay called for the policy to be clarified after some passengers complained of "undue discretion by immigration officers".

Under the immigration act, border officials have the power to "offload" passengers they suspect of having committed a crime, of using spurious travel documents or of using a tourist visa to find work abroad.

Officials are required to assess the purpose of travel and the capacity of the traveller to pay for their trip.

As well as asking for financial documents such as bank statements, officers are allowed to base their judgement on travellers' appearance and demeanour.

That, according to Yuri Cipriano, the chairman of the rights group Migrate-UAE, is "both degrading and subjective".

Some Filipinos have taken to presenting an affidavit of support and guarantee, notarised by the Philippine embassy or consulate in the UAE, to prove that someone else is financing their trip.

But even these documents are not officially recognised, as they are easily faked. Migrante-UAE and nine other Filipino community groups have been calling for the affidavits to be scrapped.

"We are waiting for the Iacat to release an official statement on whether or not the affidavit of support is mandatory," he said.

On Friday, community leaders may vote on whether FilCom, an umbrella group for Filipino associations in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, should back the calls for the affidavits to be scrapped.

"We'll come up with a common stand and forward it to the consulate," said Alan Bacason, the president of FilCom's governing council.