Some of the repatriated 100 Filipinos, including six minors, at Dubai airport. Image Credit: Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

Dubai: Filipina Sapia Salik said goodbye to the UAE, her home for 10 years, on Wednesday with no regrets after overstaying for nine years. Her homecoming is her surprise to her family and she can’t wait to start her business back home.

With luggage in tow and armed with memories of her overseas work, Salik said her stint in the UAE is one she would never forget.

Sapia Salik. Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

“Despite being an illegal for nine years, I worked hard to survive and provide for my family. I constantly lived in fear. But all that pales in comparison to what I consider as my greatest blessing during my stay here: to be able send my elderly parents to perform Haj,” Salik, 30, who hails from North Cotabato, told Gulf News.

“I also supported my two siblings’ education. I am excited to open my school supplies business back home. Everything is ready actually.”

Salik was one of the 100 Filipino amnesty-seekers, including six minors, who were repatriated on Wednesday. This was the first such mass repatriation shouldered by the Philippine government during the three-month amnesty programme of the UAE.

Wevenia Nama and her fellow repatriates. Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

Repatriates were grateful for the help the Philippine government extended to them, including the $100 (Dh367) welfare assistance handed out at the airport. Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes was on hand to oversee the final documentation process.

Stories of hope, joy and resilience filled the airport terminal as the Filipinos eagerly queued up to check in.

Quietly sitting in a corner was Crispina Jamero, who worked as a maid and had overstayed for five years. But even then, working as a part-time cleaner allowed her to support her two daughters’ education.

“My eldest daughter graduated this year and garnered the seventh spot in the Criminologist licensure exam last June,” the proud mother said, tears running down her cheeks. “My youngest is also graduating from college this year.

Crispina Jamero. Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

“I had planned to surrender to officials in February. But God did not allow it because I’d have to serve prison term before deportation. This is God’s timing. This is God’s reward — His birthday gift for me for all my labour as I turn 55 later this month.

“As for me, I will happily retire in the Philippines and take care of my first grandson who is now seven months old.”

Another proud mother, Wevenia Nama, 55, said she is grateful to the UAE for giving her the opportunity to work here for 20 years. Though she worked without papers for five years, everything paid off, she said.

“I was able to build a small house where I will retire. My meagre income also helped support my child’s education. I’m happy and grateful; it was a challenging yet wonderful time.”

Rosemen Salvador and her three kids flying home to the Philippines. Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

New life also awaits Rosemen and her three children who are half-Filipino and half-Pakistani. Rosemen’s three kids aged 12, 10, and 9, have never been to the Philippines but they’re excited to make friends and start school soon.

Three-year-old Clyde is also flying home with his dad. The toddler overstayed his visa for two years after his parents lost their jobs. The amnesty, Clyde’s mother said, was a godsend.

Clyde and his mother. Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

“He’s going home and start school. He will also celebrate his fourth birthday on August 23 in the Philippines. This amnesty is God’s birthday gift to my son,” Clyde’s mother told Gulf News.

“Thank you to the UAE and Philippine governments for this opportunity.”