naia manila airport1
Manila's main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Image is for illustration purposes only.) Image Credit: File photo

Dubai: Immigration personnel in Manila, Philippines barred on Friday at least 30 Middle East-bound Filipinos from boarding their flight for failing to present valid work permits, in a latest attempt to curb human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

The passengers, 18 women and 12 men, were scheduled to depart on an Emirates flight for Dubai on March 29 when they were held for questioning by the immigration staff at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The travellers posed as tourists when the main purpose of their trip is to work abroad, according to the country’s Bureau of Immigration-Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (BI-TCEU). Except for one flyer, all of them were carrying valid tourist visas.

When contacted by Gulf News, Emirates refused to comment on the incident to protect customer privacy. The Philippines has been tightening airport screenings of Filipinos travelling abroad in a bid to protect citizens against illegal recruiters.

As part of the requirement, Filipinos are mandated to present a valid work permit, not tourist visa, if they’re travelling for employment. Returning OFWs are also required to submit an employment certificate issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) before they are allowed to board their flights.

According to the Bureau of Immigration, 29 of the travellers intercepted last Friday were already promised jobs as waiters and waitresses in Dubai while one of them admitted that he’s bound for Baghdad, Iraq, where he was supposed to work as a kitchen supervisor, the Philippines’ state-run news agency, PNA, reported.

They also told immigration personnel that the travel documents they presented at the airport were turned over to them by a "handler" only on the day of their departure.

“All of them initially claimed they were going to visit a friend or relative in Dubai for a vacation and presented as proof their tourist visas and return tickets,” said BI Port Operations Division chief Grifton Medina.

“But inconsistencies in their statements prompted the immigration officers to doubt their purpose, so they were referred to the TCEU for secondary inspection,” he added.

Fake OECs also discovered

Last Wednesday (March 27), immigration officers revealed they have discovered a racket of human traffickers and illegal recruiters securing the departure of Filipino workers without valid documents.

The scheme was detected after a female OFW bound for the Middle East was caught using a fake clearance certificate supposedly from the POEA.

The female passenger checked into a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Dubai on March 24 and presented herself as a tourist.

However, after check-in, she proceeded to queue at the designated area for OFWs and handed over an overseas employment certificate.

When she was asked to have the paper validated and cleared first at the POEA counter at the airport, she instead went to a “handler” who was outside the immigration area and had it stamped and signed.

The BI officers, however, discovered that the POEA stamp and signature were fake

“The doubting BI officers conferred with POEA personnel to check if the said OEC was presented to them for verification and clearance,” the immigration bureau said in a statement.

“The lady manning the POEA counter was surprised upon seeing the stamp on the OEC and denied that she cleared and signed the document,” said BI-TCEU chief Erwin Ortanez.

The BI commissioner reiterated his warning to prospective OFWs not to deal with unauthorised recruiters. “These recruiters will sweet-talk you into thinking that their offer is the easier way to work abroad, do not fall for their illegal schemes,” he said.