Business World

Ban on OFWs to Kuwait may worsen problem, group warns

- Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz

AN INTERNATIO­NAL human rights group has warned that banning Filipino migrant workers from employment in Kuwait may lead to more abuses when workers resort to unsafe, unregulate­d channels to enter that country.

In a statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday, Rothna Begum, the group’s women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “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.”

She added that “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.” As HRW defines Kuwait’s kafala, or sponsorshi­p, system, it ties migrant domestic workers’ visas to their employers, prohibitin­g workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ consent.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte had ordered a total deployment ban on Filipino workers to Kuwait and repatriate­d Filipino migrant workers there, following reports of abuse of these workers, including Joanna D. Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer after more than a year. Ms. Demafelis’ remains arrived in Manila last Friday.

On the face of Mr. Duterte’s ban on Filipino workers to Kuwait, HRW noted that Kuwait has authorized state-owned recruitmen­t agency Al Durra Recruitmen­t Company to look for workers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nepal instead.

HRW in its statement also cited the Philippine­s as “a leader in protecting its domestic workers in the Middle East.”

“Philippine embassies verify contracts to check that employers commit to paying a monthly minimum wage of $400 and have requiremen­ts for agencies to pay for return flight tickets home for abused workers,” the group said. But it added that “these work best for migrants arriving through a regulated channel.”

Ms. Begum, for her part, called on Kuwait and the Philippine­s to sign a bilateral agreement that would help promote the rights of migrant workers in Kuwait.

HRW cited a number of recommenda­tions that should form part of that agreement, including increased oversight and effective monitoring of recruitmen­t agencies and an expedited complaints process. —

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