Stranded Pinoys in UAE a humanitarian crisis

by MARIA ALETA O. NIEVA, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Sep 26 2008 10:18 PM | Updated as of Sep 27 2008 06:21 AM

Relatives of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose visas have expired and are now stranded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are urging the government to address the growing humanitarian crisis. 

“About 1,000 of our OFWs from UAE are now staying in the border in Oman,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. told reporters Friday.

ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau had reported that there are about 6,200 OFWs stranded in Oman and Iran due to problems with their visas.

Conejos announced that the Philippine ambassador in Oman will try to provide assistance to the stranded OFWs.

“On Sunday, our team from Dubai will meet with immigration officials in the border where our Filipinos are and work out a solution to this,” Conejos said.

He explained that the UAE government implemented a new regulation on the issuance of visas last July 29, and this was announced to OFWs as early as March of this year.

“The consulate has been telling our OFWs, watch out for this. Do not take your chances,” said Conejos.

He stressed that under the new regulations, foreign nationals must secure a visa before they are allowed to enter UAE.

Forewarned on visas

“Yung mga Filipinos natin who were forewarned about this new regulation as early as March na had to leave UAE at nag expire na ang visa, di na sila makabalik. Kasi under the new regulation, it will take the UAE government at least 60 days, unlike before na four days lang to process,” he said.

According to Conejos, the UAE government put a stop to the practice of entering and finding work in the UAE with the use of a tourist visa, which provides them 60 days of stay. Once the visa expires, they can leave the UAE and get a new one processed for 2-3 days only.

The practice has been going on for a very long time, Conejos said.

“I hope the Dubai government will be lenient towards us. But remember, this is a policy of the Dubai government, applicable to everybody,” he said.

He added that the Philippines could only approach the Dubai government because “this is an act of sovereignty on their part.”

“These are regulations and not directed at Filipinos. It’s directed to everybody entering the UAE. All we can do is plead with them, ask for whatever way they can to ameliorate the conditions of our Filipinos,” he said.

Conejos hopes that the number of stranded Filipinos would not increase.

“Other countries are complying, so I think we have to do something about it also,” Conejos said.

Humanitarian crisis

The stranded OFWs said the visa application process was harder compared to the earlier ruling. Most have been stranded in their hotel rooms for more than a month.

In a forum attended by Manila-based lawyer Adel Tamano recently, relatives and friends of the stranded Filipinos said they are worried about the conditions of their loved ones.

Some pictures sent by the stranded Filipinos showed poor living conditions.

One photograph showed a dozen beds crammed into a single room.

The stranded Filipinos said all they did throughout the day was to wait for the decision on their visa applications.

Even their travel agencies are worried about the conditions, saying many of the stranded Filipinos are suffering too much in their current condition in Iran and Oman.

Tamano said this is already a major crisis.

"That is a humanitarian crisis, six thousand (Filipinos) stranded... Some of them are unable to eat three square meals a day. Our government should be doing something," he said.

Tamano said that 500 of them are stranded in Qeshm, Iran; 3,000 in Kish, Iran; 2,000 in Buraimi, Oman; and 700 in Khasab, Oman.

"Dapat nang kumilos ang gobyerno. They have to do something. Kung di man sa kapatid, eh marami pa rin doon na nagtitiis," said Tomas Atienza, brother of one of the stranded workers.

Tamano added the Philippine government must initiate a dialogue with UAE officials to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, relatives of the stranded workers have started a petiton calling for the removal of officials of Philippine embassies in the UAE, Oman and Iran. -- With Dindo Amparo, ABS-CBN Middle East News Bureau Chief