x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 February 2018

Philippines imposes 'total ban' on citizens taking up jobs in Kuwait

New order applies to Filipinos who have obtained jobs in Kuwait but not yet travelled there

A labour department official speaks to Filipino workers who were repatriated from Kuwait at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, on February 12, 2018. Erik De Castro / Reuters
A labour department official speaks to Filipino workers who were repatriated from Kuwait at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, on February 12, 2018. Erik De Castro / Reuters

President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Kuwait on Monday over reports of Filipino workers suffering abuse and exploitation in the Gulf state, as the Philippines extended a ban on its citizens working in the country.

More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids, said the Filipino authorities. They are among more than two million employed in the region.

Labour secretary Silvestre Bello on Monday announced a "total ban" on new employment in Kuwait, including Filipinos who had already obtained employment permits but had not yet left for the country.

Authorities have not ruled out revoking the permits of Filipinos currently working in Kuwait or of previous hires returning on new contracts.

"With the advent of the series of reports involving abuses and deaths of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all overseas workers … is hereby enforced," Mr Bello said, reading an order.

"This order takes effect immediately."

The move would affect thousands of workers, labour spokeswoman Abegail de Vega said.

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Read more: More than 2,200 Filipinos in Kuwait want to go home

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The move came after Mr Duterte last month barred Filipinos from seeking work in Kuwait, although the ban exempted those who had already secured permission to work there.

Last Friday, Mr Duterte hit out at Kuwait as he brandished photos reportedly of a Filipina maid, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, found in a freezer in Hawally, a residential area that is home to a large Arab expatriate population.

Kuwait's embassy in Manila declined to comment.

Local newspaper reported on Monday that Interpol was tracking Demafelis's employers, a Lebanese-Syrian couple.

The Filipino ambassador to Kuwait, Renato Pedro Villa, told local press that an investigation by the public prosecution office in Kuwait was launched after the image emerged online.

Mr Duterte has been vocal on the issue of abuse of Filipinos in the Middle East, even threatening a ban on citizens working anywhere in the region.

The Philippine foreign affairs department said on Monday that authorities were repatriating 10,000 overstaying Filipinos from Kuwait under an amnesty programme arranged with the Kuwaiti government.

Officials added they were eyeing China and Russia as "alternative markets" for overseas workers.

Meanwhile, Kuwait's interior ministry denied on Monday social media reports that security personnel escorted Filipino domestic workers from citizens' houses against their will.

The Filipino embassy was not immediately available for comment.