'OFWs returning from Iraq won't be punished'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 27 2010 06:03 PM | Updated as of Jul 28 2010 07:42 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Job offers, not sanctions, are waiting for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), who violated the Philippine government's deployment ban to Iraq.

This was the assurance made by Carmelita Dimzon, head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), amid the US government's order to its subcontractors in Iraq to repatriate Filipino workers.

"I don't think punishing them or sanctioning them at this point will be done," Dimzon said in an interview on ANC's On The Scene on Tuesday.

She said that there are at least 8,000 to 10,000 Filipinos working for US military contractors and subcontractors in Iraq.

In a memorandum issued by the United States Central Command last July 20, Colonel Richard Nolan, senior contracting officer of the Iraq CentCom Contracting Command said: "All contractors in Iraq have 20 days from the date of this letter to ensure their employees comply with US and international law and understood their redeployment responsibilities under the term of their contract."

The memo added: "It is the contractor's responsibility to ensure that it is not employing people from countries prohibited from entry to Iraq."

The decision of the US Central Command was also triggered by reports that some expatriate workers, including Filipinos, were abandoned by their contractors in various camps throughout Iraq, raising concerns about violations committed by various contractors including hiring workers from countries that have imposed travel and work restrictions.

The repatriation deadline was set on August 9.

Dimzon said that they expect the repatriation of Filipinos in several batches to start by August 9.

She said OWWA staff will be welcoming the OFWs at the airport.

"We will meet them and find out what they wish to do. If they still want to apply for overseas employment, local employment, or they will opt to say [in the country] and engage in livelihood activities," she said.

Dimzon said that the government is also ready to offer the OFWs financial assistance so they can start their own business in the country.

Dimzon said that Undersecretary for Migrant workers' Affairs Esteban Conejos has started communicating with the Filipinos' employers.

She said Conejos has also been tasked to determine the real number of Filipinos working in Iraq despite the Philippines' work ban.

Reports said that there could be as many as 15,000 Filipino workers who have illegally entered Iraq despite the ban.