BAN ON OFW DEPLOYMENT TO MIDEAST LIFTED

Manila, April 9, 2003 -- Acting on the joint recommendation from the 
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and 
Employment (DOLE), President Arroyo ordered yesterday the lifting of the 
ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Israel.

The President lifted the ban based on reports from the Philippine embassies 
in the three countries and special envoy Roy Cimatu, head of the Middle 
East Preparedness Team, declaring the situation in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, 
and Israel as "calm and normal."

All travel to Iraq, however, remains suspended. Foreign Affairs Secretary 
Blas Ople said the Philippine government is committed to help address the 
humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people in the post-war rebuilding of 
Iraq, along with other members of the international community.

Immediately after the Iraq war broke out two weeks ago, the labor 
department ordered a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to these 
three Middle East countries, upon the recommendation of DFA.

The following day, DOLE decided to modify the previous ban by prohibiting 
only new hirees from being deployed, so as to enable returning workers and 
those with confirmed flight bookings to leave the country and fulfill their 
contracts.

The latter ban prohibited travel and work in the Middle East except for 
Filipino workers staying in Manila on vacation leave and those who fell 
under one of the following categories: those whose families remained at the 
worksite; those whose work sites are situated far enough from the battle 
areas; and those whose work visas are about to expire.

The President decided to lift the ban to enable workers who have completed 
all their travel and work documents after the outbreak of the war to leave 
for the Middle East. She, however, instructed the DFA and DOLE to continue 
monitoring the situation in the Middle East.

"We are optimistic that the conflict in Iraq will not spread to other 
places in the Middle East. Our posts abroad are maintaining a tight watch 
on the war in Iraq and its effects on other Middle East countries," Ople 
said, adding that the lifting of the ban will be periodically reviewed 
based on events unfolding in the region.

Acting Labor Secretary Manuel Imson has directed the Philippine Overseas 
Employment Administration to process the contracts of OFWs bound for the 
Middle East.

"Most of these workers have a deadline to meet with their employers and 
further delay in the issuance of their contracts would severely hamper 
their employment opportunities," he said.

According to Imson, they do not yet have data as to how many workers failed 
to leave because of the ban, but he said deployment to the region was 
definitely affected by the prohibition.

Based on data from POEA, about 15,000 Filipino workers are deployed to 
Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait every month, Imson said.

Cimatu, who has been staying in Kuwait to oversee the Philippine 
government's contingency plans for the 60,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait, 
said Filipinos will get the first crack at about 1,200 new jobs available 
in Kuwait, where they are preferred by Kuwaiti employers for their skills 
and resiliency in a crisis.

"Initially, there are 1,200 new jobs, but more job openings will be added. 
I have talked with the employers' sector here in Kuwait and they are 
awaiting the lifting of the ban. We expect the needed Filipino workers to 
be deployed within three weeks," Cimatu told the President.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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