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Top officials at the pilot episode of OFW Help Live hosted by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Image Credit:

Dubai: High-ranking Filipino diplomatic officials have called on their kababayans (compatriots) who are out of work, have expired visas and are hard-pressed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to consider returning home instead of staying in their host country.

The statement was made during the pilot episode of OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) Help Live hosted by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) undersecretaries Sarah Lou Arriola and Ernesto Abella on Thursday.

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The OFW Help Live session

Addressing distressed overseas Filipinos, Manila-based Arriola, who is the DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, said: “You have to discern where you will be best situated at this time. Although our resources are finite, we want to assure you that we are doing the best we can.”

“If you are out of work and it would harder for you to survive (abroad), there is the government and your friends here (Philippines) who can help,” added Arriola.

“This is an open invitation to overseas Filipinos – documented or not – to come home. You can return abroad later,” underlined Arriola, adding: “If you really find it difficult to live overseas, we are ready to bring you home.”

“At least here you can stretch your budget as prices of basic needs are relatively cheaper,” she pointed out.

Arriola said, as of April 16, the Philippine Government has repatriated a total of 14,706 distressed Filipinos from around the world, including 3,127 land-based workers and 11,579 seafarers (including the 415 Filipino seafarers who were stranded in the UAE for six weeks).

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Total number of repatriations so far

Abella, who is the former spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte and currently the DFA Undersecretary for Strategic Communications and Research, said: “The Philippine government is making a kind offer. The (COVID-19) situation is uncertain. Let us be practical - while the opportunity is there, I think this is the best time to come home.”

Contact missions

In the same FB live programme, Philippine Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes told his kababayans not to hesitate in reaching out to the Philippines missions in the UAE.

“But because of the lockdown, there is no need for them to personally come to the Embassy or Consulate. They can email or send a message on WhatsApp. We are working round the clock and our staff will respond,” Cortes said.

“Please coordinate with the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai or the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi so that we will be able to come up with a list of who wish to go back home for a good,” he added.

Cortes said the Philippines missions have so far received around 900 applicants.

“But of these 900, only about 200 are tourist or visit visa holders. The rest are residents who were probably sent on a furlough or placed under a no-work-no-pay scheme. No, they have not been dropped by their companies but they have just been asked to go on a short leave,” Cortes underlined.

Return tickets

In an earlier interview with Gulf News, Cortes clarified workers who were terminated and would like to be repatriated must demand from their employers return tickets to the Philippines.

In a joint advisory issued on April 13, the Philippine missions in the UAE said: “If you are terminated, it is the obligation of your employer to get you a return ticket to the Philippines. This is pursuant to the UAE labour laws.”

They added: “We are calling on the employers for their understanding and cooperation. They can book a flight via Emirates of Etihad Airlines, which have been permitted to fly to the Philippines. There is no need to call the Embassy or Consulate because (these airlines) have been given special flights permission to land in Manila despite the lockdown in Luzon.”

Cortes pointed out the government’s priority is to assist “those with no employer, relative or friend to help them and would like to go home for good.”

Cortes told Gulf News the total budget of the Philippine government for its Assistance to Nationals (ATN) is PhP1 billion (Dh72.5 million) annually. He noted the ATN fund was instrumental in helping overstaying Filipinos in the UAE during the 2018 Amnesty repatriation programme.