x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Stranded Filipinos face repatriation

Many are refusing to return to their country, according to the Philippine foreign affairs department in Manila.

Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman, speaks to fellow citizens stranded at the border earlier this month.
Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman, speaks to fellow citizens stranded at the border earlier this month.

Hundreds of Filipinos still stranded in Iran and Oman awaiting UAE visas will be repatriated by the Philippine government - but some are refusing to accept the offer to go home. An Assistance to Nationals (ATN) fund has been established for the mass repatriation of stranded Filipinos estimated to number more than 1,000, but many are refusing to return, according to the Philippine foreign affairs department in Manila.

"There is only one reason why they do not wish to return home," said Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman. "Most of them already have jobs on UAE visit visas and would like to continue working, but are stranded outside the UAE. Their last recourse is to return home." Lack of job opportunities in the Philippines is also a major reason why many Filipinos do not want to go home. Some 337 on Kish Island have expressed willingness to be repatriated but only five have accepted in the Omani border town of Buraimi where hundreds of Filipinos are believed to be stranded.

"We were able to get the 337 names and their passport numbers," Aladin Villacorte, the Philippine ambassador in Iran, said. "Kish Airlines has offered to fly them to Dubai airport for free." Based on two consular visits to Kish and Queshm islands this month, Mr Villacorte said 800 Filipinos were stranded on Kish and 350 on Qeshm. "They may run into thousands, and at least 1,000 should be repatriated immediately," he said.

However, Nhel Morona, the secretary general of Migrante-UAE, a migrant workers group, said about 2,000 Filipinos were stranded on Kish Island. Mr Villacorte, who is co-ordinating with the Philippine consulate in Dubai, said no date had yet been set for the mass repatriation. Benito Valeriano, the consul general in Dubai, met Kish Airlines officials last Sunday and the airline offered to fly the Filipinos to Dubai free of charge. When they reach Dubai airport they will be sent to Manila and the Philippine government will shoulder the cost of repatriation, according to Mr Villacorte.

The Philippine Embassy in Oman hopes more Filipinos in Buraimi and Khasab will ask for repatriation. "Five Filipinos are due for repatriation and it's not enough. We're concerned about those who are ill and need urgent medical assistance," Mr Omar, the ambassador to Oman, said. Some 1,500 Filipinos in Buraimi and 400 in Khasab were still waiting for visas to re-enter the UAE, he said. Since many have stayed longer than the permitted time in Oman and face deportation, Mr Omar has asked the Omani government to waive or reduce immigration fines. Foreigners outstaying their visas in Oman are charged Dh100 (US$27) a day. The request has been referred to the Royal Oman Police.

"Our main concern is to seek amnesty specifically for the stranded Filipinos," Mr Omar said. "It is being taken into consideration by the Omani government." Diana, 24, who went on a visa run to Buraimi on Aug 19, had to pay a Dh3,000 fine for outstaying her visa. Tourists are allowed to stay 21 days in Oman plus a one-week extension. "My friends helped me pay the fine," Diana said. "But I still have to pay Dh3,000 to the hotel before I can return to Dubai on a new visa. I will try to get a job in Dubai as soon as I get my new visa."

Libran Cabactulan, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said his embassy was telling Filipinos seeking to return to the UAE to wait for their new visas in the Philippines. "Under the new UAE visa regulations, conversions from a visit visa to an employment visa may take at least one month to process," he said. "Obtaining a new visit visa may also take several weeks due to the backlog of pending applications."

@Email:rruiz@thenational.ae