JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – At least a thousand undocumented overseas Filipino workers are still waiting for their repatriation inside makeshift tents, just a few meters away from the Philippine consulate in Jeddah.
Some have started to lose hope that they would be able to return home before the new deadline on March. The extension was set anew by the Saudi Arabian government to allow undocumented foreign workers more time to correct their status.
There are now two groups of tents sheltering stranded OFWs in Jeddah.
One of the stranded OFWs said he has been staying at the Tent City for nine months now.
"Siyam na ho, dahil itong Marso isang taong na. Mabagal ang sistema, marami ho kami rito," he said.
Some stranded pregnant women already gave birth at the Tent City while waiting for their repatriation. One of the babies was even named “Baby Tent” because she was born there. She is almost a week old today.
A mother of five has been living in a small tent with her children. The youngest is just three months old and the eldest is five-years old. One of the children is suffering from goiter and requires medical attention.
Tent city dwellers rely on OFW organizations for food, water and other necessities. Some of the groups that continue to help stranded OFWs and their families are the Kaagapay ng Bawat OFWs, Tropang Puyat Group, NARS, Samahang Ilocano, Guardians, and Ilonggo Group and. Medical missions and free haircuts are also held at the Tent City.
"Hindi naming alam kasi ang sabi ng embassy mag antay lang daw ho kami. Kinuha lang yung travel document naming pero wala naman resulta kung paalis o ano. Basta sabi mag antay lang daw kami," one of the mothers said when asked about their repatriation schedule.
Vice Consul Jim Minglana requested the stranded OFWs to transfer to the safehouse where the consulate provides their basic necessities while they wait for their repatriation. However, most of them preferred to stay at the Tent City.
"Ang embassy natin or and gubyerno natin ay hindi nagbibigay ng tubig o gamot. Mabuti pa yung Filipino community outside, nagbibigay po sila ng tulong," said another stranded OFW.
The Department of Foreign Affairs have so far sent home 4,167 Filipinos from Jeddah alone and spent P70.6 million in 2013, according to their press release.
More than 2,000 of the repatriates were women and majority of them worked as household helpers. Almost 900 were children, mostly undocumented, the consulate said.
The DFA shouldered the airline tickets of almost 3,000 repatriates costing the government P56 million. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Saudi Government provided 194 and 976 tickets respectively.
"Sa tingin ko po mas maganda wala na pong extension para po mapabilis ang pag uwi namin. Supposed to be po, sa tagal naming dito, mag-iisang taon na kami ngayong March. Ang panwagan naming sa gubyerno pauwiin na kami," said another OFW.
The Consulate is currently maintaining two shelters for stranded OFWs in Jeddah.