'Kafala' system for Middle East OFWs must stop: official

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2018 03:52 PM | Updated as of Sep 11 2019 05:08 PM

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Kuwait arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila on Monday February 12, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The government should not allow Filipinos to find work in the Middle East under the "kafala" or sponsorship system, which leaves them vulnerable to abuse, an official said Wednesday.

Overseas Filipino workers are under the mercy of the employer under the "kafala" system, which also limits their movement, said Presidential Adviser on OFWs Abdullah Mama-o.

"We may have all the best laws in this country to protect the interest of our domestic workers working in different countries in the world but if we still have this kafala system in different parts of the Middle East, we will not have that kind of protection for our workers," he told lawmakers.

"If we agree to continue in the future the deployment of domestic workers, we should insist that this kafala system should be out," he added.

The Senate on Wednesday investigated the plight of OFWs after a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Demafelis, was found dead in Kuwait, with her remains kept in a freezer.

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv

A common practice in Arab countries, the kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor in the host country so that a visa and worker's permit can be issued.

"The employer controls everything. He has the passport, worker's permit," Mama-o said.

"If this kafala system [will] still [be] applicable in Kuwait, our domestic helper will still be locked in the room," he added.

Demafelis' case was likely due to abuse of the "kafala" system, according to Mama-o.

Mama-o said the public should support the deployment ban to Kuwait since it might be a "big leverage" for the signing of a bilateral agreement on between the Philippines and Kuwait to better protect OFWs.