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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Filipinos criticise president over 'reckless' ban on workers in Kuwait

The diplomatic spat may affect the lives of some 250,000 Filipinos living in Kuwait

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday that a ban on Filipino workers from heading to Kuwait that's been in effect since February would now be permanent, inflaming a diplomatic dispute.  Yong Teck Lim / AP  
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday that a ban on Filipino workers from heading to Kuwait that's been in effect since February would now be permanent, inflaming a diplomatic dispute.  Yong Teck Lim / AP  

Filipinos in Kuwait and senators in the Philippines have derided President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to make the work ban on Kuwait permanent, saying the leader is “gambling with the lives and employment of thousands”.

Kuwait expelled the Philippines' ambassador to Kuwait after a video went viral last week of embassy employees conducting “rescue” operations in the country without warrant from local authorities.

The Kuwaiti government also recalled its envoy in Manila, who was working with the Filipino government on a worker agreement, over what Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah called “a breach of sovereignty”.

He said on Monday, however, that he was ready to co-operate with Manila. “The historic friendship could help overcome this exceptional circumstance," he said.

Mr Al Jarallah said the most pressing issue currently was 800 Filipino citizens living in shelter centres as the government investigates their cases of abuse.

President Duterte has yet to respond, but said on Saturday the decision in February to temporarily prohibit Filipinos from working in Kuwait will be permanent.

He attempted to appeal to the "sense of patriotism" of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait and asked them to return home, saying they would get financial aid and job opportunities in other countries.

The livelihoods of Filipinos working in Kuwait are now at risk thanks to the diplomatic spat that began in February following the discovery of the murder of a Filipina maid who worked for a Syrian-Lebanese couple.

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Filipinos in Kuwait, many of whom are employed as domestic workers, have taken to social media and reached out to their embassy in protest of Mr Duterte’s decision.

Senator Risa Hontiveros lashed out at the president for what she said was a rash decision that could affect some 250,000 Filipinos working in the country.

"It is extremely reckless, short-sighted, and uncaring ... This is not a game. We are talking about the lives and future of our OFWs and their loved ones," the senator said in a statement on Sunday, according to local papers.

The move was also criticised by Migrante International, a non-profit organisation established to assist Filipinos working abroad.

“Can the president provide for all the needs of the 260,000 OFW families in Kuwait once they return here in the country?” a statement on their website said.

Filipino workers often leave their home country in search of higher salaries as even skilled workers like computer engineers earn at home only about 49,300 pesos (Dh3,526) a month, according to government figures.

The pro-labour group, Migrante International, said it was ironic for Mr Duterte to ask Kuwait to improve the plight of Filipino workers there when they left the Philippines because of difficult economic conditions.

About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they send back is a lifeline of the Philippines economy.

Some, however, supported the move by Mr Duterte despite a lack of evidence the Filipino economy could provide jobs to low-skilled workers.

Anecito “John” Bertiz III, a member of the Phillipines House of Representatives, supported Mr Duterte in his call to urge Filipino workers to come home, according to local papers.

“We really have to discourage their deployment to countries where they have little or no legal protection,” Mr Bertiz said in a statement.

However, he made a distinction, saying that this does not apply to professionals working in Kuwait as “employers avoid mistreating highly skilled staff because they are difficult to replace”.

Kuwait said it was keen on maintaining the safety and rights of all expatriates including the Filipino community within the labour laws of the country, which have been praised by international human rights agencies.