Dubai: The temporary ban on the deployment of Filipinos in Kuwait is now permanent, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday, further worsening the dispute over domestic workers.
“The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment (of OFWs for Kuwait),” Duterte told reporters at the international airport in Davao, shortly after his arrival from his trip in Singapore.
Kuwait is home to approximately 262,000 Filipinos, many are believed to be breadwinners in their families. Around 60 per cent of them are employed as household workers.
The president issued the statement just days after the country's envoy to the Gulf state was asked to leave. Duterte said he will instead ask other countries, including China, to consider recruiting more Filipinos, in order to accommodate those who are looking to work overseas.
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Last February, the Philippines' Department of Labour and Employment (Dole) issued an order to enforce a ban on Filipinos heading to Kuwait for work, following a directive from Duterte.
The move was in response to a series of incidents that led to the deaths and injuries of a number of OFWs in the Gulf state. A body of a domestic worker from the Philippines was earlier found stuffed inside a freezer in an abandoned villa
Tensions between the two countries had inflamed recently following the circulation of videos of Philippine Embassy staff members attempting to help Filipino household workers flee from their employers’ homes.
The government of Kuwait deemed the rescue attempts as a "violation of its laws" and later asked Ambassador Renato Villa to leave the country.
During his trip in Singapore on Saturday, Duterte reiterated his appeal for the 260,000 OFWs still working in Kuwait to just return home.
"I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home. Tutal marai nang trabaho sa Pilipinas (There are now a lot of employment opportunities in the Philippines),” Duterte said during a speech before the Filipino community in Singapore.
He pointed out that he does not harbour hate against Kuwait, citing that the country has helped provide a source of income to many Filipinos all these years.
“To the Kuwait government and the people: Thank you for helping my compatriots all these years. It is a debt of gratitude that, after all, you have helped us. So, I’m not angry. I don’t have any hatred. Nothing at all,” Duterte said in mixed English and Tagalog.
According to labour watchdog Migrante International, Filipino expatriates can’t just abandon their jobs in Kuwait if there is no assurance that they can find similar employment opportunities in their home country or elsewhere.
“We cannot expect our OFWs to come home if the root cause of their migration – poverty due to landlessness and lack of decent jobs still exists and is actually worsening,” Migrante said in a statement posted on its website on Sunday.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, an opposition senator, said: “President Duterte should stop gambling with the lives and employment of thousands of Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and the welfare of their families.
“Mr president, until and unless you stop exporting them continually and your promise of a better Philippines, a country where there are regular, decent and living jobs for all able-bodied Filipinos, is fulfilled, they will be forced to search for greener pasture in foreign lands, even if it is in Kuwait.”
Talking to reporters in Davao, Duterte said he can’t force every Filipino in Kuwait to leave, but “at the same time, I would like them to cherish and nurture their patriotism.”
“For Filipino household service workers, if your Kuwaiti employers want you to leave, then please come home. Your government will do its best to help your return,” the president was quoted by media reports as saying.
Duterte said he considers the OFWs’ situation in Kuwait as a “calamity,” adding that he will use government funds if he has to, just to encourage them to leave.
“The money is there... I can always use emergency fund. To me, it’s a calamity… If my countrymen are suffering, I would use it,” he was quoted by Philippine Star as saying.