Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain.
It has been a tumultuous few months for a number of places in the Middle East with war and civil unrest breaking out. Unfortunately, the Middle East is one of the most common destinations of Filipino overseas workers and with the recent eruption of chaos and violence in places like Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya, a lot of our countrymen working there have been forced to come back home.
While coming back home means reuniting with their families, it also means a loss of income for those who badly need it.
A hero’s cry for help
Jemuel Alunen was an OFW who has been working in the Middle East for the past 30 years. It was in 2002 when Mang Jemuel began working as a Safety Officer for a construction company in Tripoli, Libya. With the P50,000 he earned monthly, Mang Jemuel was able to send three kids to school and was able to give his family a comfortable life.
When the tension began to escalate in Libya, Mang Jemuel realized that his well-being was potentially in danger. He had no choice but to come back home along with 97 his 97 other Filipino co-workers.
One of the experiences that Mang Jemuel shared was that of when he and his fellow OFWs were walking to the airport, they could see different people of different nationalities, all of them wanting to leave Libya and go home but were not as fortunate as Mang Jemuel and his co-OFWs. They could not do anything except feel pity for those who would remain in Libya.
For the other OFWs who were not as lucky to be able to leave immediately like Mang Jemuel, what they had to go through was something that worse than a nightmare.
At present, 94 OFWs have been sent home from Egypt while a whopping 8,684 OFWs have been sent home from Libya, including Mang Jemuel. Although Mang Jemuel was very thankful that the authorities were quick to act on this situation and thankful that he would be coming home safely, he also felt sad because the reality is, he still has a family to provide for and children to send to school. Without the monthly income he had, where would he turn to?
Mang Jemuel admits that although he was able to invest in a few material possessions, these possessions are slowly being sold or exchanged for money, something that Mang Jemuel and his family need.
While the OFWs sent home were entitled to a loan from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Association or OWWA, there too many unnecessary complications before he would be able to avail of the loan. If he is unable to go back to Libya and work again, Mang Jemuel says that he expects to lose everything that he had worked for just so that he can get his second son through college.
On the part of OWWA, they stated that they are only the guarantors and the banks are responsible for the loans. They have asked the banks for consideration for the affected OFWs so that with the loan given to them, they will be able to maybe start a small business and get their lives back on track.
Because of the financial difficulty that he and his family are currently facing, Mang Jemuel has admitted that if given the choice, he would rather tough it out in Libya even amidst the tension. Rather than face uncertainty and insecurity back at home, he would rather be in Libya and be able to guarantee his family a better life.
When asked for a message to the government, Mang Jemuel had this to say:
“Sila ang nagturing sa amin na bayani, ang gusto lang namin ay sana naman may makuha din kami galing sa kanila, give and take sana. (They were the ones who started calling us heroes, all we want is just a little help in return. Give and take.)”
It’s true that we have started calling our OFWs as our new heroes, but does it stop there? When our heroes become the ones in need, what can we do to help them? What can the government do to help them? Are we ready to help them?
It was in the 1970’s when job opportunities in the Middle East started to boom. Back then, only architects and engineers were needed but soon after, blue-collar jobs, jobs in construction, and domestic help work became available.
From jewelry to expensive appliances and even homes, overseas workers working in the Middle East had made a lot and had a lot to show for it, making sure that the families they left back at home were comfortable.
Back in the 70’s, there were 2,000 Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs) in Saudi Arabia. At present, there are and estimated 1.6 Million OFWs in the Middle East. Even though there is an ever present threat of war and trouble in the Middle East, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), there are:
- 14,737 Filipinos in Libya,
- 17,020 Filipinos in Syria
- 2,000 Filipinos in Yemen
- 31,077 Filipinos in Bahrain
- 5,900 Filipinos in Egypt
- 1,159,083 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.
Take note of these numbers so that we can understand just how many of our countrymen chose to take their chances in a place where war could break out at any moment, all just so they can provide a better life for their families.