Amid protests in Saudi Arabia called by the minority local political dissenters demanding the release of 15 detained Shiite leaders and reforms in their government, an alliance of Filipino migrants’ group Tuesday strongly re-iterates its call to the Aquino government to immediately repatriate the 1,000+ stranded OFWs, some with children, temporarily seeking refuge at Al-Mina hajj terminal and inside the Jeddah deportation center.
“While we are not saying that peace and order situation in Saudi would worsen amid planned demonstrations on March 11 and March 20, it is but prudent for the Aquino govt. to immediately repatriate the more than 1,000 stranded OFWs and children in Jeddah deportation center and those temporarily seeking refuge at Al-Mina hajj terminal in Jeddah,” said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator.
Monterona, citing reports from its Migrante officers in Jeddah, said there are about 550 stranded OFWs in Jeddah deportation centers. “On our estimates, there are more than 200 each at cell nos. 14 and 16, mostly women, some with children. While, less than 100 in other cells,” Monterona revealed.
While at Al-Mina hajj terminal, Monterona said there are about 500 more temporarily seeking refuge while waiting for assistance from PH consular officials in Jeddah.
On March 1, Monterona confirmed that he had spoken with PH Consulate General Ezzadin Tago informing the latter of the complaints Migrante received from the stranded that POLO-OWWA officials in Jeddah are asking money from the stranded for their airfares which Congen Tago promised to investigate.
“I have spoken with Labor attache Vicente Cabe last Thursday (March 3) to inquire with him the status of the stranded OFWs’ repatriation. He confirmed that those whose membership to OWWA had already expired could not get airplane ticket provided by OWWA, instead they would get it from DFA-OUMWA,” Monterona said.
Monterona said: “In such case, then DFA-OUMWA should immediately release the budget for the plane tickets of the majority of the stranded as they have been undocumented for more than 1 year and were not able to renew their OWWA membership.”
“We were told that there are 200 plane tickets provided by OWWA for the stranded in Jeddah, but Labatt Cabe could not confirm it yet,” Monterona added.
Distress at Bahay Kalinga
Aside from the 1,000+ stranded OFWs in Jeddah, there also about 120 distress OFWs at the PH embassy-run Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh and about 30+ at POLO-OWWA shelter in the Eastern region.
“They too need to be repatriated as soon as possible; we don’t want them to be left behind in case political turmoil besieged Saudi Arabia,” Monterona added.
Monterona added the repatriation of stranded and distress OFWs is an urgent task the DFA and PH embassy must concentrate and give priority.
“The stranded and distress, and even overstaying jailed OFWs, must be included in the contingency plans and they must be on the top priorities of the Aquino govt.,” Monterona averred.
No PH envoy to Saudi
On March 6, Migrante-Middle East issued a statement calling the Aquino govt. to seriously consider the immediate deployment of PH envoy to Saudi Arabia after Amb. Antonio Villamor had ended his tour of duty on September 30.
Monterona said more than five (5) months already when former Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia Antonio Villamor ended his tour of duty following the succession of the Aquino administration. “But, up to this date, there is no PH ambassador to Saudi,” he added.
“We could not understand, despite clamor from Saudi-based OFWs, why PNoy could not appoint a PH envoy to Saudi particularly now that the latter’s services are badly needed in time of political uncertainties in the Arab region,” Monterona averred.
“Kung hindi kaya o ayaw pa mag-deploy ng Aquino govt. ng isang envoy bilang head of PH diplomatic post, papano nito ma-secure at mapapa-uwi ang mahigit 1.2-M OFWs kung sumiklab ang kaguluhan sa Saudi?” (If the Aquino govt. could not deploy an envoy to Saudi as head of PH diplomatic post, how could it secure and eventually repatriate the more than 1.2-M OFWs in Saudi?” Monterona asked. # # #
John Leonard Monterona
Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator