Riyadh—A pregnant woman, her husband and infant daughter were among six Filipinos killed in a weekend fire at their Saudi Arabian residence, the Philippine Embassy said on Monday.
The blaze, blamed on an electrical overload, broke out just after 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) Saturday at the apartment where three families lived in central Riyadh, Philippines charge d’affaires Iric Arribas told Agence France Presse.
All three family members, including an 18-month-old daughter, died from smoke inhalation, he said.
The father of a second family had just left for work when the building caretaker called to alert him to the blaze. He rushed home to find that his wife, son and daughter were all dead, Arribas said.
Filipinos are one of the major expatriate communities in Saudi Arabia, working in a range of jobs from hospitality to nursing, labor and management.
The Saudi government has pledged to shoulder the airfare of retrenched overseas Filipino workers who wish to return to the Philippines, and waive immigration penalties of OFWs with expired working visas.
Previous reports state that thousands of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are at risk of losing their jobs due to a huge budget shortfall and falling oil prices being faced by the Middle Eastern country. At present, there are about one million Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
In view of these developments, senators Joel Villanueva and Juan Edgardo Angara called on the Philippine government to ensure the availability of better job opportunities for returning OFWs.
Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resource development, pushed for the expansion of government scholarship programs for returning OFWs especially in skills development or technical-vocational education.
“Most, if not all, of our OFWs go abroad because of lack of opportunity in the Philippines. Some of them do not want to return to the Philippines for lack of jobs suited to their skills and financial needs,” he said.
“We can give OFWs a better life here by providing assistance and incentives to those who will invest in micro, small and medium enterprises and giving them access to resources and developing their capacity for innovation,” Villanueva added.
Angara, the vice chairman of the Senate committee on labor, stressed that government must provide employment opportunities and livelihood assistance to OFWs who return home when they lose their jobs.
He said the new Overseas Workers Welfare Administration law or Republic Act 10801, which was enacted in May this year, can boost the government’s capacity to assist retrenched OFWs under the reintegration program that is one of the core programs of OWWA.
Under the law Angara sponsored, at least 10 percent of the total collection of OWWA should be used for the reintegration program every year to provide training in financial literacy, entrepreneurial development, techno-skills and business counseling and to find job referrals to both local and overseas employment.
His Senate Resolution 103 sought to review the implementation of government assistance programs for stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia.
Under the OWWA’s “Balik-Pinas, Balik Hanapbuhay” program, displaced or distressed workers can avail of either starter kits worth P7,500 or a livelihood assistance of P10,000, or a special loan facility supporting enterprise development that allows an OFW member or their legal dependent to borrow from P300,000 to P2 million.
Angara also noted that aside from financial support, retrenched OFWs may also undergo psycho-social counseling, stress debriefing and values.
Based on the latest data from OWWA, 3,858 affected OFWs in Saudi, including those still at jobsites and those already repatriated, have received financial assistance of P20,000 each, while 3,297 families of stranded OFWs were granted P6,000 each. With AFP