Filipino work­ers re­main stranded abroad

Arab News - - News Internatio­nal - El­lie Aben Manila

Funds for the repa­tri­a­tion of over­seas Filipino work­ers af­fected by the COVID-19 pan­demic may run out by the end of Au­gust, of­fi­cials said on Fri­day.

Since March 22 the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment has repa­tri­ated more than 56,000 of its na­tion­als, most of whom were left job­less abroad due to the global health emer­gency, and nearly 38,000 more are ex­pected to re­turn in the com­ing weeks.

Of­fi­cial records show that up to 167,000 Filipino work­ers are cur­rently stranded in their host coun­tries, with 88,000 of them in Saudi Ara­bia alone.

While the gov­ern­ment says it wants to bring home as many of its na­tion­als as soon as pos­si­ble, For­eign Affairs Un­der­sec­re­tary Sarah Ar­riola ex­pressed con­cerns that the Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs’ PHP1 bil­lion ($20 mil­lion) as­sis­tance fund for work­ers may be de­pleted by the end of Au­gust. She said that ap­prox­i­mately 66 per­cent of the bud­get had al­ready been spent, with only PHP344 mil­lion left.

“Our uti­liza­tion rate is very high,” she told a hear­ing at the House com­mit­tee on pub­lic ac­counts. “A char­tered flight costs PHP12 mil­lion to PHP13 mil­lion per flight, and that is only good for 350 pas­sen­gers.” But money is not the only is­sue in the repa­tri­a­tion process, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s la­bor sec­re­tary.

“In repa­tri­at­ing our OFWs (Over­seas Filipino Work­ers), we also have to con­sider the lock­downs im­posed by coun­tries where they are work­ing,” La­bor Sec­re­tary Sil­vestre Bello III said in a state­ment on Satur­day, adding that more funds would not bring na­tion­als home in the ab­sence of other equally im­por­tant fac­tors. The “lock-ins” and “lock-outs” in in­fected coun­tries were still a ma­jor ob­sta­cle, he said, even if the Philip­pines opened its doors amid its own COVID-19 re­stric­tions. He also pointed out that there were le­gal im­ped­i­ments tied to the exit visas, loans and cases of Filipino work­ers want­ing to go home.

“It re­ally gets frus­trat­ing when for­eign em­ploy­ers refuse to give the exit visas of our OFWs to stop them from re­turn­ing to the Philip­pines. There are many em­ploy­ers like that abroad. Repa­tri­a­tion of OFWs also be­comes dif­fi­cult to achieve when they still have loans to set­tle and com­plaints to face.”

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