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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Kuwait accuses Philippines of violating its sovereignty over rescues of domestic workers

A video apparently of Philippines embassy staff rescuing a maid from a Kuwaiti home has deepened a diplomatic dispute between the two countries

Jessica, sister of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her sister's remains at the international airport in Manila on February 16, 2018. Ted Aljibe / AFP
Jessica, sister of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her sister's remains at the international airport in Manila on February 16, 2018. Ted Aljibe / AFP

A diplomatic row between Kuwait and the Philippines has intensified following the publication of a video apparently showing Filipino embassy staff removing one of its nationals from a domestic role in Kuwait.

Kuwaiti deputy foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah accused the Filipino embassy of violating Kuwait’s sovereignty after viewing the video, which was published first in the Philippines and spread on social media.

The minister issued two written warnings to the Filipino ambassador, Renato Villa, expressing “regret over such practices which can harm relations between the two countries”.

The video shows what is said to be a Filipino embassy worker escorting a maid from a Kuwaiti household, apparently in response to reported abuse. The two enter a black Jeep carrying diplomatic license plates and drive off.

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The two countries have been embroiled in a diplomatic spat since February when Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte banned Filipinos from taking up work in Kuwait.

That came after the body of Joanna Demafelis, a maid from the Philippines, was found stuffed into a freezer in Kuwait City.

Demafelis' former employers, a Syrian-Lebanese couple, were later tried and sentenced to death for the murder after an international manhunt involving Interpol and Lebanese authorities.

Despite the international investigation, President Duterte remained critical of Kuwait's treatment of domestic workers in February, saying that “something is wrong with your country [Kuwait]”.

Mr Al Jarallah told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that he is “saddened by this crisis with the Philippines” but is not looking to sever ties with Manila.

Filipino newspapers reported on Monday that the Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano, said that while Kuwait supported rescue operations conducted by its own police, authorities opposed those conducted by foreign embassy staff.

Ambassador Villa was earlier quoted in Kuwaiti media as saying his embassy will intervene to help its nationals if Kuwaiti authorities fail to respond to complaints within 24 hours. Kuwaiti authorities summoned Ambassador Villa over his comments.

The two countries are now working to reach an agreement on the welfare of Filipino workers in Kuwait.

"That misunderstanding will be resolved," Mr Cayetano told a Filipino newspaper, Philstar. "What is important is that we get to listen to the complaints, and before we sign the agreement and lift the deployment ban, we have a system that works."

Meanwhile on Sunday, Kuwaiti police arrested two Filipinos for allegedly convincing housemaids to run away from their employers.

More than 260,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many of them as housemaids. Despite laws against it, some employers confiscate workers' passports and phones.

The Philippines embassy has a 24-hour hotline to receive reports of abuse.

Kuwait now offers amnesty to all Filipino visa overstayers seeking to leave the country.