MANILA, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Mayen Jaymalin - More than 2,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia face possible arrest and imprisonment as the Saudi government resumes today its crackdown on illegal foreign migrants.

Labor group Migrante International said about 1,700 undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remain stranded in Jeddah while a thousand others are scattered in Riyadh, Al Khobat and Dammam.

The Saudi Ministry of Labor has ruled out an extension of the amnesty period and warned illegal workers and Saudi employers that countrywide raids would start today. But foreign migrants holding necessary documents and waiting to legalize their status or repatriation will not be arrested.

Once apprehended, an undocumented migrant will be imprisoned for six months to one year and will be slapped with a fine ranging from 12,000 to 20,000 Saudi rials or P139,000 to P230,000.

“We fear the worst. We expect more wipe-out efforts and drastic measures by the Saudi government on and after the actual day of resumption of crackdowns,” Migrante chair Garry Martinez said in a statement.

Saudi gov’t has no response yet

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Vice President Jejomar Binay continue to make representations in seeking an extension on the Nov. 3 deadline for undocumented OFWs to obtain legal status.

Binay, also the presidential adviser on OFW concerns, personally wrote King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to formally ask him to extend the Nov. 3 deadline for OFWs to process their papers.

But the DFA said yesterday that the Philippine government has not yet gotten a reply from the Saudi government.

“As of this time, we have not yet received the Saudi government’s response but whether they extend it or not, we will continue with the repatriation,” DFA spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has already designated Undersecretary Jesus Yabes to personally discuss with his Saudi counterparts how to hasten the repatriation of affected OFWs.

The Philippine government earlier said it has repatriated over 4,000 undocumented Filipino migrants from Saudi Arabia.

Migrante, however, criticized the Aquino administration for failing to undertake the mass repatriation of all undocumented OFWs.

Migrante sets up monitoring centers, hotlines

Migrante also slammed the Philippine government because it even failed to set up hotlines or guidelines for stranded OFWs to avoid arrest and detention.

“What our OFWs need now is on-call legal assistance and protection. What they need now is for the Philippines posts to open their doors to the stranded OFWs, to provide them sanctuary,” Martinez said.

Migrante has set up monitoring centers and hotlines to immediately determine if there are OFWs arrested and to assist them.

John Leonard Monterona, coordinator of Migrante-Middle East and North Africa, said undocumented OFWs can call the following Migrante hotlines in Saudi Arabia for assistance: 00966 55 726 7069 for OFWs in Riyadh and Central Region; 00966 56 203 1626 for OFWs in Jeddah and Western Region; and 00966 50 737 3906 for OFWs in Al Khobar and Eastern Region.

Monterona also urged undocumented OFWs staying in the so-called tent city to call up Migrante if any of them is arrested.

“We want to ensure that undocumented migrants’ well-being and rights be upheld and respected by concerned authorities. Though undocumented, they have rights, too,” Monterona said.

“We are expecting an intense crackdown of all undocumented migrants in the kingdom in the coming days. The undocumented migrants should be treated humanely as there were reports of abuses, manhandling, slapping, kicking, during previous crackdown,” he added.

He urged the Saudi government to waive the immigration penalties and fines of apprehended undocumented migrants and implement swift deportation proceedings instead.

Gov’t has P2B for reintegration of OFWs

Meanwhile, Malacañang said repatriated Filipino workers from Saudi Arabia would have jobs in the Philippines because the Aquino government has allotted P2 billion for their “reintegration” into the local workforce.

In an interview over state-run radio dzRB yesterday, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Department of Labor and Employment is the “administrator” of the funds while its “conduit banks” are state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines.

Repatriated Filipino workers can make use of the reintegration funds to start a small business.

Coloma also gave assurance that the government would extend legal assistance to affected OFWs in Saudi Arabia. – With Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores


PH girds for Saudi drive on overstaying OFWs by Roy Mabasa November 4, 2013

Manila, Philippines — The Philippine government is scrambling to prevent a massive crackdown on an estimated 1,500 overstaying Filipinos who are still in Saudi Arabia as the correction period granted by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for illegal migrants to either regularize their status or leave the Kingdom expired yesterday.

On the day the grace period officially ended, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Raul Hernandez announced that the DFA has asked the Saudi government for another extension of the Nov. 3 deadline.

According to Hernandez, the request was sent through Vice President and Presidential Adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) concerns Jejomar Binay.

“The Philippine government through Vice President Binay has sought an extension of the grace period to allow more OFWs to be repatriated or regularized in an expeditious manner,” Hernandez said in a radio interview as undocumented Filipinos who remain in the Kingdom brace themselves for the expected massive crackdown by Saudi authorities in the coming days.

The DFA official, however, failed to specify when the request was made. He also has yet to respond to additional queries regarding the issue as of press time.

Deadline Extension Sought

Hernandez revealed that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario already dispatched DFA Undersecretary Jesus Yabes and other officials to negotiate for the extension, to seek the assistance of Saudi authorities for the repatriation of OFWs who are waiting for their immigration clearances, and to check the condition of the Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

He said the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh continues to work closely with concerned Saudi authorities for the expeditious issuance of exit visas for the remaining Filipinos who have signified their desire to return to the Philippines during the grace period granted by the Saudi government.

After the Nov. 3 deadline, illegal migrants found to have violated Saudi’s immigration and labor regulations will face a possible six months to one year imprisonment and will be slapped a fine ranging from 12,000 to 20,000 Saudi rials, roughly equivalent to P139,000 and P230,000, respectively.

2,000 Await Clearance

According to the DFA, around 9,000 undocumented Filipinos have originally signified to be repatriated.

Now, only less than 2,000 are awaiting immigration clearance.

The total number of Filipinos who have been repatriated on tickets shouldered by the Philippine government, in addition to those who left on their own expense, already breached the 4,000 mark before the end of October, with 2,270 coming from Riyadh and the Eastern region, while 1,837 came from Jeddah.

Meanwhile, Filipino migrant rights group Migrante-Middle East and North Africa (Migrante-MENA) have set up monitoring centers and hotlines to further provide assistance to around 5,000 undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are still in Saudi Arabia amid fear of the resumption of crackdown.

Hotlines for Assistance

Monterona said undocumented OFWs can call Migrante-KSA hotlines for assistance in anticipation of the illegal migrants’ crackdown by Saudi authorities.

He also appealed to Saudi authorities to respect the rights and well-being of undocumented migrants.

“We are expecting an intense crackdown of all undocumented migrants in the Kingdom in the coming days,” said Monterona in a statement issued on Sunday. “The undocumented migrants should be treated humanely as there were reports of abuses, manhandling, slapping, kicking, during previous crackdown.”

“We also appeal to the Saudi government to waive the imposition of immigration penalties and fines to all apprehended undocumented migrants, and instead swift deportation proceedings will be implemented,” he added.

Migrante Demonstration

Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez slammed the government for the delay in the processing of the papers of the stranded OFWs, saying it could be held accountable for any abuse against them since it failed to pull them out on time despite the Saudi government’s four-month deadline extension.

He said Migrante will hold a demonstration today in front of the DFA main office in Pasay to call on the government to address the plight of the stranded undocumented OFWs in KSA.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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