What is Filipino Immigration Policy
Permanent "export ban"
Ten million Filipinos, one in ten citizens, work abroad. Two million of them are in the Gulf States, according to official information from the responsible authorities, a quarter of a million in Kuwait alone, of which 165,000 are domestic helpers. The small emirate on the Persian Gulf may rarely make the headlines. In terms of average per capita income, it is the fourth richest country in the world, only Qatar, which is not far, has even higher values in the region. The prosperity, however, primarily affects the local upper class. How the many foreign employees who are in their service, directly or indirectly secure and increase the wealth of their employers, are on a completely different page. Compared to the meager income at home, the earnings are quite solid. Millions of families in the Philippines depend on remittances from their relatives, who usually have to toil hard to enable their children to go to school or to finance the meals on the table when they are away from home.
Joanna Demafelis, whose body was recently found in a freezer in Kuwait, had also seized the opportunity to receive at least US $ 400 a month as domestic help - instead of a tenth of that amount at home. In 2013 she applied to a recruitment agency and found a job the following year. Communication with her family was broken in 2016, the presumed time of her death. Her relatives were deeply concerned, but the fact that her recruiting company had now gone bankrupt and she had changed employers made it difficult for the authorities to investigate. Rather by chance, the remains of the 26-year-old were finally found in the spring. On March 3, she was laid to rest in her hometown of Sara, Iloilo Province. Hundreds attended the memorial service, including celebrities such as Labor Minister Silvestre Bello III. Those allegedly responsible for her death have since been arrested in Lebanon. These are the young woman's last employers, Nader Essam Assa of Lebanese origin and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun.
The Demafelis case, in connection with which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte spoke of a "national disgrace", is only the tip of the iceberg. 16 deaths are recorded in the official statistics for the previous year alone. This recent death, however, has reignited the debate as to whether the authorities are doing enough to protect compatriots working abroad, known in technical jargon as the OFW (Overseas Working Filipinos).
There are corresponding legal regulations on paper. In practice, however, those affected often feel left alone when they are mistreated. In the worst case, it is a modern slave existence, thousands of kilometers from home. Such employment relationships are already favored by the legal framework. Most contracts in the Gulf States are based on the traditional Kafala system, in which the job seeker needs a "sponsor" in the host country. It can be a company, but it can also be a family. This has almost complete control. Household helpers are often not even allowed to leave the house without permission. Asking for help in an emergency under such conditions is extremely difficult.
After the Demafelis case, public outrage resulted in increased pressure on the Filipino authorities. Since then, the embassy staff in Kuwait City have helped domestic helpers escape their tormentors several times. The diplomats picked them up in cars and took them to safety.
The procedure triggered a crisis in bilateral relations, as the Gulf emirate accused the Philippines of encroaching on its sovereign rights. Ambassador Renato Villa was declared a persona non grata and a one-week period was given to leave the country. He has been back home for a few days. Kuwait's own chief diplomat in Manila was called home for "consultations." Philippine President Duterte has now appointed his advisor Abdullah Mama-o as special emissary for Kuwait. Even before his official appointment, the special envoy had held talks in the Gulf emirate. In front of media representatives, Duterte left no doubt that he would like to bring some 260,000 Filipinos home from Kuwait - regardless of the immense costs that would mean. New work permits for the golf emirate are no longer issued in Manila after an initially temporary ban. In his harsh reaction, Duterte also factored in economic upheavals: In 2017, the Filipinos from Kuwait transferred an impressive 735 million dollars home, the sum from all countries in the region was 7.5 billion.
Filipinos have been moving to the Gulf States to work since the 1970s. A new framework agreement with Kuwait, which aims to raise the safety standards for migrant workers, was negotiated three years ago, but has not yet been signed by Kuwait. A signature ceremony planned for May 7th, attended by high-ranking officials from the Philippines, was canceled at short notice by Manila.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch is critical of the complete ban by the Philippine side. She fears that the cancellation of official work visas will drive more people into illegal channels. Instead, Manila should continue to work on protection standards with Kuwait, the organization said. As a result, there have already been some improvements since 20015/16, as the organization admits to the Gulf emirate. Unlike in the past, migrant workers are now allowed to change jobs without the consent of their current employer. However, domestic help is excluded from this. But even for them there has been progress in the last few years: Their working days must not last longer than twelve hours, they are entitled to 30 paid vacation days per year and paid overtime. A minimum wage of the equivalent of $ 200 has recently become mandatory - all of which is only on paper, of course. Human Rights Watch's 2017 annual report concludes that domestic helpers have "an even more difficult time than other migrant workers" to enforce their rights.
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