BAN ON OFW DEPLOYMENT TO MIDEAST LIFTEDManila, 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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