MALAYA: Migrante hits DFA, OWWA response to stranded OFWs problem

March 28, 2008

OVERSEAS Filipino workers’ advocate Migrante International on Thursday assailed the “obvious lack of coordination” between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration after the agencies put out conflicting reports on the actual number of OFWs stranded in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia who are set for repatriation soon.

Migrante chair Connie Bragas Regalado said DFA undersecretary Esteban Conejos announced that 27 out of 117 stranded OFWs will be deported soon while OWWA administrator Marianito Roque claimed 84 out of 145 distressed OFWs were coming home soon.

Regalado said both the DFA and OWWA should release a complete list of the stranded OFWs, especially the ones reportedly scheduled for deportation. She said accounts of “chaos and emotional trauma” experienced by the said OFWs have reached Migrante’s offices in Manila, Riyadh and Jeddah.

“Stranded OFWs and their families are at a loss because they are unsure which ones are included in the list for repatriation,” said Regalado, sniffing at Conejos’ announcement that DFA and OWWA will shoulder the repatriation of the OFWs. “They should make public a full accounting of how their repatriation funds are being spent. Enough of the coverups and misleading statements.

“It is also extremely unjust for Usec Conejos to blame the stranded OFWs for their plight. Reports indicate that the DFA and its posts overseas have long been aware of and in some cases are in collusion with fixers who promise the OFWs a back door exit in exchange for a fee,” said Regalado.

“If the DFA was truly bent on ending this practice, why haven’t they initiated or worked with Saudi authorities to conduct an investigation into it so that the fixers are prosecuted and arrested?” she asked.

Migrante will picket OWWA’s office in Pasay City today to demand the full reimbursement of repatriation tickets paid for by the stranded OFWs and for their speedier repatriation.

Regalado also warned government that the issue of stranded OFWs in Jeddah and elsewhere will be a blot on the Philippines’ image, especially when the country hosts the Global Forum on Migration and Development in October.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency has advised departing OFWs that a simplified airport exit procedure has done away with the requirement that they get their papers validated at the labor assistance counters (LACs) found in the country’s international airports.

“Departing OFWs shall present the exit clearance or overseas employment certificate issued by the POEA directly to the airline counters, terminal fee counters, and the Bureau of Immigration counters,” the POEA said.

The POEA said all LACs will still remain open 24/7 to accommodate and assist departing OFWs. Services on offer include help in documentation problems, issuance of overseas employment certificates to OFWs leaving the country within 24 hours and information dissemination to OFWs and their families. — with Gerard Naval