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Hundreds of migrant workers flee Saudi crackdown

Tent colony springs up outside Philippine consulate

Hundreds of migrant workers flee Saudi crackdown
Stranded migrants, many of them women and infants, are camping outside the Jeddah consulate
Ronald O Reyes, Manila

April 15, 2013

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A growing number of overseas Filipino workers have found themselves isolated in Saudi Arabia following a crackdown on undocumented workers in the kingdom.

Around 675 undocumented workers, including women and their children, flocked to the Philippine consulate in Jeddah last week to seek their government's help.

"They are setting up tents for shelter and their numbers are growing," said John Leonard Monterona, coordinator of the international migrant group Migrante.

"We are worried about their condition, especially the health of children and women, considering the high temperature," said Bobyy Fajarito, spokesman of the Jeddah Filipino Society.

He called on the Philippine government to relocate the workers to a temporary shelter "for comfort and safety" while awaiting approval of their repatriation papers. 

“Doing nothing to relocate them to a safer and more comfortable shelter is tantamount to criminal neglect by the government," Monterona said.

Philippine officials earlier expressed fears that as many as 20,000 Filipinos are in Saudi Arabia without proper papers. Despite well publicized problems and abuses, the kingdom remains a top destination for Filipino overseas workers, with about 1.5 million there currently .

Migrante earlier reported that at least 30 Filipinos have been arrested in the government crackdown on undocumented workers.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Labor launched the Nitaqat Scheme, also referred to as 'Saudization,' earlier this year. It directs employers to hire Saudi nationals ahead of migrant workers.

The authorities have become noticeably more meticulous in monitoring undocumented migrant workers. Nitaqat allows officials to set up checkpoints and conduct raids on offices, shops and other businesses to monitor the employment of its own people and check on documents and permits.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs department, however, said it was unaware of the arrest of any Filipino workers.

Migrante president Connie Bragas-Regalado said the Philippine government has yet to take any concrete action on the matter. “[Filipinos] are either in deportation centers, in jail or in fear of their lives and welfare."

Regalado said the crackdown was sudden and unprecedented. Undocumented workers, she added, are mostly victims of abuse and maltreatment who ran away from their employers.

In a development late last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced a three-month suspension of the crackdown, to give expatriates time to correct their work permits before they face penalties, deportation or a lifetime ban.

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