x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Filipinos seek Middle East jobs to rebuild lives after Haiyan

Work in the GCC seen as only hope for thousands left homeless and jobless after devastating storm in November.

Aiza Tonida puts out laundry amid the ruins of her parents home in Leyte province that was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan struck central Philippines on November 8, 2013. Joey Reyna for The National
Aiza Tonida puts out laundry amid the ruins of her parents home in Leyte province that was destroyed when Typhoon Haiyan struck central Philippines on November 8, 2013. Joey Reyna for The National

MANILA // Typhoon Haiyan blew away Aiza Tonida’s house and her livelihood when it hit the Philippine island of Leyte.

The car showroom at which she worked as a clerk suffered extensive damage and she lost her job.

She travelled to Manila to find work but soon returned to her home province empty-handed.

With a young son to support and a home to rebuild, Ms Tonida was left with little option – she applied for office work in Qatar and the UAE.

She has joined thousands of others from the devastated region looking to work abroad and rebuild their lives nearly six months after one of the biggest typhoons ever to hit land barrelled across the central Philippines, killing at least 6,300 people and flattening neighbourhoods.

In a country where 11 per cent of the population already work overseas, the Arabian Gulf remains one of the most attractive destinations for people from this region to bolster their future.

“In Leyte it’s very hard to get a job. There aren’t any opportunities,” said Ms Tonida. “I just want to be able to give more money to my family, especially my son who will need money to study.”

In the meantime, her family needs money to rebuild their home, which was destroyed on that fateful day of November 8.

With winds of more than 300kph and a huge storm surge swamping coastal areas, businesses were left in ruins, farm land devastated and 5.9 million people without their primary source of income, the International Labour Organisation says.

The result has been an increase in the number of Filipinos seeking to work abroad.

Before the typhoon, about 4,000 Filipinos left their country to work overseas each day. That figure is expected to rise to as many as 4,500 because of the disaster, said John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante-Middle East, which looks after the interests of Filipino expatriates.

Recruitment agencies have seen a strong rise in applications for work overseas from the affected areas, including the devastated regional capital Tacloban.

“Before the storm, in Tacloban we saw 20 applicants over a month. Now it’s 50,” said Lanie Gomez, operations manager of Mirben International Manpower Service, an agency that recruits domestic workers for Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Stung by the criticism of its slow response to the tragedy, the Philippines government organised recruitment fairs in the worst-affected regions.

At a job fair this month organised by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (Poea) in Guiuan, a devastated town on Samar island, more than 7,000 jobs from 19 overseas and local agencies were on offer.

At a similar job fair in Tacloban in January more than 1,700 people registered for overseas jobs and 235 of them were hired on the spot.

“I noticed that there were many women, especially those already aged 40 and up, looking to work overseas mostly as a domestic helper,” said Rose Jervosa, director at Poea in Tacoban.

One of the main issues facing job applicants is a lack of documents. Many lost their passports, birth certificates and certificates of employment in the storm surge that followed the typhoon.

At the Tacloban job fair, half of those applying for overseas jobs did not qualify because of a lack of documents.

Nurse Jethka Silvestre, 22, lost her documents when the typhoon blew the roof off her home in Tanauan, in Leyte province. As a result, she was unable to get jobs offered in Kuwait and the UAE.

She is slowly gathering the required paperwork and intends to apply again.

“I want to apply so my family can have financial support,” said Ms Silvestre, who now lives on the ground floor of her home with seven members of her family.

“I have a lot of friends wanting to apply. Before we had a job at our hospital but it was devastated during the typhoon so afterwards we lost our jobs.”

As the numbers of job seekers increases, so have the number of overseas job opportunities, especially in tourism, health care and construction, Poea says.

The Middle East remains the largest labour market for Filipinos, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar, which is set to host the football World Cup in 2022, will also need about a million workers in construction, hotels and health care.

Levi de Mesa, president of International Skill Development, which recruits building workers for the Middle East and Africa, said the company was wary about recruiting workers from the areas affected by the typhoon because they were badly needed there.

“They need construction workers there,” Mr de Mesa said. “After three to four months we will go back there and offer the same jobs.”

He said the department of foreign affairs has been helping by limiting the number of documents needed to get a passport.

“If you can’t produce a birth certificate, then you can produce a signed affidavit by two persons confirming that you were born on a certain date,” Mr de Mesa said.

Even with the necessary paperwork and a firm job offer, there are other bridges to be crossed in working overseas.

For Ms Tonida, and others like her whose lives were turned upside down by the typhoon, the prospect of getting a job overseas and having to leave her family behind fills her with mixed emotions.

“This will be my first time working in a different country,” she said. “I’m scared but it’s better than not working.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae