MANILA, NOVEMBER 27, 2003  (STAR) By Marvin Sy - Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople has asked the South Korean government to extend its deadline for the deportation of undocumented Filipinos working there.

Ople directed Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Aladin Villacorte to "make representations with the Korean government on the possible extension of the deadlines for deportations and explore ways of regularizing the status of those who might be subject to deportation as well as ensure that deportees receive all salaries and benefits that they are entitled to from their employer."

Ople’s appeal comes in the wake of a recent announcement by the South Korean government that all illegal aliens must leave South Korea by the end of this month.

Those who fail to comply with this deadline will face fines, detention and forced deportation.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by this policy are those who failed to register under the Voluntary Registration Program implemented by the Seoul government in March 2002. Seoul will also deport those who have stayed illegally for at least four years.

Under the Work Permit Law passed by the Korean National Assembly earlier this year, illegal aliens who registered under the Voluntary Registration Program will be allowed to stay as legal workers.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said there are 18,000 OFWs in South Korea. Of this number, 12,785 undocumented OFWs have benefited from the Work Permit Law.

A provision under the law requires the deportation of workers who have been staying in the country illegally for at least four years.

The DFA noted that there is a significant number of Filipinos who have been staying in South Korea for more than four years.

The Philippine embassy in Seoul has also consulted with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to discuss ways to protect the rights of Filipino workers who are facing deportation.

Villacorte and the representatives of the embassies of other affected migrant workers recently attended a meeting held by the CHR on the best way to protect the rights of these workers.

Villacorte raised concerns on the need to avoid detaining undocumented workers in the same holding areas as hardened criminals.

"While we respect the host government’s prerogatives when it comes to immigration policy, it is our hope that the rights and dignity of undocumented workers who will be subject to deportation will be respected," Ople said.

Ople said the Philippine government, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families, has always been vigilant in the protection and promotion of the interests of OFWs.

He added that Villacorte has been instructed to work with the embassies of other migrant-worker deploying states and the Filipino community in South Korea to come up with ways to protect the rights of these illegal OFWs.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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