DFA in talks with Saudi gov't to repatriate stranded OFWs

By Charles Tabbu, ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau

Posted at Apr 29 2013 10:19 AM | Updated as of Apr 29 2013 06:19 PM

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Jesus Yabes arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Thursday to look into the situation of stranded OFWs camping beside the Philippine consulate.

Yabes accompanied by DFA Assistant Secretary for Middle East and African Affairs Petronila P. Garcia met with Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago, Consul General Norman Uriel Garibay and other consulate staff to discuss issues concerning the stranded OFWs.

In an exclusive interview with the ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau right after the closed-door meeting, Yabes assured that the stranded OFWs will all be going home.

“But one thing is for sure is that, all of them will go home. All of them will go home. May mga iba nga lang may mauuna, may mga mahuhuli. Hindi naman sila puwedeng sabay-sabay. But rest assured that they will all go home,” he said.

There are about 2,000 OFWs camped beside the consulate. However, there are more than 3,000, including children, in the list submitted by the leaders in the camp site. There are also pregnant women and a newly-born baby among the stranded.

Yabes disclosed that the Philippine Government has started a dialogue with the Saudi Government since last week.

"We have also, since last week requested the Saudi Government to assist us in fast-tracking the repatriation of these people," he said.

He also expressed concerns about the welfare of the OFWs, especially children, who are camping out under the heat of the sun.

"“In the meantime we are looking for a place for them to transfer to, at ayaw naman naming sila diyan, dahil mainit, their situation there is very unhealthy,” he said.

The consulate has invited women and children to move to the consulate building but they refused. Only seven families accepted the consulate’s offer and some of them even went back to the ‘Tent City.’

"Inisip namin na sabihin sa kanila para po sa kabutihan po ng mga bata. Kaya po namin sila pinapalipat dahil kami po ay nag-aalala sa mga bata. Pinapalipat dahil kami po ay nag-aalala sa mga bata. Pinapalipat sa mas maayos na lugar kasi umiinit na po ang panahon. At pagdating ng tag-init, mas lalo pong kawawa ang mga bata at mga nanay," Garibay said.

But despite the consulate's efforts, the stranded OFWs have insisted on staying at the Tent City. Some have suffered illness, rashes and drowsiness.

Mariam Faisal , a stranded worker, even suffered a mild stroke. But he preferred to stay at the Tent City. "Kaya ako pupunta rito, gusto ko na talagang umuwi sa Pilipinas kaya lang hindi ko na kaya katawan ko," she said.

One of their coordinators said the group remains committed to their fight, until they are all repatriated back home.

"Nagtitiis po kami dito sa init, ang lahat po ng bata dito nagkakarashes dahil sa init. Ang hirap po ng sitwasyon namin pero nag-titiis kami makauwi na kami sa aming bansang lansangan,” said Joan Punong Bayan, one of the stranded OFWs

"The offer remains open. Mag-sabi lang po sila sa guard na they want to be accommodated duon po sa lugar natin sa itaas,” Garibay said.

However, Yabes told ABS-CBN that the processing of the OFWs' repatriation is not that easy especially for those who ran away from their employers, which is a violation of the Saudi Immigration and labor law.

"It’s difficult to bring them home because they have violated their immigration laws and this is what we are trying to request the Saudi government to waive those requirements and we will repatriate all our nationals,” he said.

A number of Filipino organizations continue to send food, water and medicine to the stranded. Other nationalities also brought food and medicines.

The consulate also supplied water, light and portable toilets at the Tent City. Medical missions have been conducted at the camp for three days now by OFWs working in the medical sector, including Arab nationals. OFW groups, including the Guardians Desert Fox who travelled 200 kms from Taif, came to render assistance to the stranded OFWs.