An official of the Department of Foreign Affairs said more Middle Eastern countries may be willing to discuss changes in their sponsorship system for foreign workers. This system is more commonly known as “kafala.”
The openness appears unprecedented.
“Never before have we ever seen the openness of these countries to listen to us, to open their doors, to build a bridge because they want to do better,” said Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said, as reported by GMA News.
Under the system, foreign workers require a local sponsor and need its permission to change jobs or leave the country altogether. The sponsor could either be an individual or a company. The arrangement has left workers vulnerable and at the mercy of their sponsors.
“Kafala” has often been called modern-day slavery
Six years ago, Arriola said, reforms to the system were practically a taboo topic during United Nations activities, and all other nations were wary of offending the countries which observed it.
But since the death of Joana Demafelis, a 29-year-old migrant worker from the Philippines found in a freezer in Kuwait, there have been some changes.
In 2018, it was only Bahrain willing to talk about kafala. But this week, Philippines representatives attended the International Migration Review Forum 2022. Arriola said they were able to talk to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain on migrant workers’ matters.
Such a system is based on a mindset that migrants of countries like the Philippines need their jobs in these foreign lands more than their employers need them. Once these OFWs arrive in these countries, they face uncertain working conditions. The presence of embassies or consulates does not guarantee immediate resolution of their woes. Sometimes, these do not even get resolved at all.
The new department created to protect the interest of our migrant workers has a daunting task ahead of it. Not only does it have to address problems that may arise; it also has to address the decades-old issues that have hounded our OFWs and their families.
Certainly, the fact that we have institutionalized the export of labor instead of seeing it as a temporary measure until better economic opportunities come along is an occasion for sadness and frustration. It reflects how our leaders have, over many years, failed to create an economic environment that would sustain a good quality of life for Filipinos, such that they have to make the painful—and often perilous—choice of leaving their families behind just to earn decent wages.
Let’s welcome this development among Middle Eastern countries and continue to push for the interests of our workers, with the end – ideal – scenario of Filipinos viewing migration as just an option, rather than a necessity, for upward mobility.