PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday visited the wake of Joanna Demafelis, the Filipino worker whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait two weeks ago.
Duterte spoke with members of the Demafelis family, including her parents, Eva and Crisanto, in their home in Sara, Iloilo, and vowed to give the slain worker justice.
The Kuwaiti authorities said they are looking for Demafelis’ employers, a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife.
Duterte, who had announced a total deployment ban of workers to Kuwait, said he is considering expanding the ban to other countries where Filipinos are abused.
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Manila Musaed Saleh A M Althwaikh said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks against his government will not affect the diplomatic relationship of both countries.
In an interview, Althwaikh said he is also hopeful that the problems that they are facing will soon be solved.
“We want to take it to another stage of cooperation… Every problem between our two countries will be solved,” he said.
He believed that the tension between the Philippines and Kuwait, caused by the growing violence against Filipino workers, was just temporary.
On Jan. 19, 2018, the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment ordered a temporary ban on Filipinos seeking to migrate to Kuwait for work, pending an investigation into seven deaths of domestic workers in the country.
On Feb. 12, the Philippines, on orders from the President, imposed a “total ban” on new workers migrating to Kuwait.
On Wednesday Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed invited Duterte to visit after he made scathing remarks about Kuwait and Arab employers.
“We proposed to the Philippine authorities to resolve and contain these issues and not to escalate them in the media,” Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khalid Al Jarallah said.
The ambassador here said that the Kuwait government is still waiting for Durerte’s confirmation.
The Philippines is currently speeding up the repatriation of 3,000 undocumented and illegal workers in Kuwait before it cracks down against illegal workers or aliens.
On Wednesday, the Kuwait government extended the deadline for its amnesty program to April 22.
Althwaikh said the extension was the most “humane” thing that the Kuwait government could do.
He said the extension of amnesty program reflects the good relationship between the two countries.
There are 10,800 Filipinos believed to have overstayed their visas or have run away from their employers.
The DFA however said, out of the total number, there are only 3,000 Filipinos who applied so far.
Human Rights Watch called on Kuwait to agree to greater protection for migrant workers as a Philippine delegation was due in the emirate Thursday to discuss an outcry over alleged abuses of Filipinos.
But the New York-based watchdog also criticized a ban imposed by the Philippines last week on migrants leaving to work in Kuwait, saying it was likely to increase the number resorting to unregulated channels that exposed them to a greater risk of abuse.
Te President triggered a diplomatic row with Kuwait by alleging that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours a day and fed them scraps.
“Kuwait should confront the outcry over deaths, beatings and rapes of domestic workers by taking immediate steps to reform the kafala system, which traps workers with abusive employers,” HRW’s Middle East women’s rights researcher Rothna Begum said in a statement late Wednesday.
The kafala or sponsorship system, widely prevalent in the oil-rich Gulf states, ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving or changing jobs without prior consent.
“The Philippines should work with Kuwait to protect workers rather than ban them from migrating, which is more likely to cause harm than to help,” Begum said.
“Both Kuwait and the Philippines have an opportunity to work together to increase protections for domestic workers and fix the gaps that are leaving workers vulnerable to extreme abuse.”
Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait.
It has invited Duterte to visit the emirate but he has yet to respond.
The Philippine delegation due in Kuwait later on Thursday is headed by Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad.
It is due to travel on to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two other Gulf states with large Philippine migrant workforces.
In all, there are more than two-million Filipinos working in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the economy.
Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the delegation to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.
Duterte also wants Filipinos to have access to cell phones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said. With AFP
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