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Repatriated distressed workers from Jeddah at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs)

More snags to bringing home foreign workers staff with Jeffrey Asuncion, Manila

August 26 2010

The arrival in Manila of a new batch of distressed workers from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has boosted fears of growing problems with the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers.

Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA) head Carmelita Dimzon said her agency had repatriated 466 workers from Jeddah and Kuwait from June to August as part of the Aquino administration's "accelerated repatriation program."

At least 800 more are still waiting for their papers, she added.

She worries that their number may grow as more runaway workers and unregistered overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from outside Jeddah seek sanctuary near the consular office or in the city center.

In addition, there are many OFWs who are detained in Saudi deportation centers, Dimzon said.

"Many temporarily stayed under the Ghandara Bridge hoping to be deported to end their suffering," she said.

The OWWA chief said workers were stranded because employers would not pay for the return travel of those who broke their contract, while the Saudi government refuses to issue exit visas and clearances to overstaying workers.

Some workers said they had left their employers because they were not paid their agreed salaries. Women complained they were physically abused by employers. Other workers overstayed hoping to find a new job after their original contract ended.

Carmelita Nuqui, president of Philippine Migrants´ Rights Watch (PMRW), an international NGO including Catholic groups, has also expressed concern over the issue.

Last Tuesday, seventeen workers, including Omar Diaz, Paul Atencio and Abdur Racman, arrived in Manila where they are temporarily staying at a government halfway house before traveling to their home provinces.

The three told that during their two-week detention they were forced to live in "dirty" and "cramped" cells along with hundreds of other Filipino and foreign workers.

Some of their companions contracted illnesses, Atencio said.

"We just fended for ourselves during the two weeks that we were inside the detention center," Diaz added.

Prior to surrendering to the consular authorities as part of the repatriation process, Diaz worked as a waiter and wedding planner for almost five years.

Atencio was employed as a surveyor while Racman worked as a waiter, also in Jeddah.

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