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Kuwait attempts to arm-twist the Philippines by imposing a total entry ban

On May 14, 2023

Kuwait has banned the entry of all Filipino nationals, except those with valid residence permits. The ban includes those who possess new work visas. A Philippines official says the move is a retaliatory measure aimed at forcing the sending country’s hand.

Following the gruesome murder of Filipina domestic worker Jullebee Ranara, the Philippines stopped the deployment of domestic workers to Kuwait while it sought to renegotiate the terms of the labour agreement between the two states.

According to Kuwait Times, Interior Minister Sheikh Talal Al-Khaled Al-Sabah ordered the suspension “because Philippines has not complied with the provisions of the labor agreement between the two countries [...] Philippines has breached the conditions and provisions of the labour agreement.” The Kuwait Times later reported that the decision was made because the Philippine government imposed "conditions on Kuwaiti offices that recruit workers and imposed financial fees and demands that violate the laws of the state."

The Public Authority of Manpower also reportedly sent warnings to the labour attaches of various embassies with large communities of workers in the country, stating that they must adhere to bilateral labour agreements or otherwise new work permits will be suspended.

In a video interview, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega stated "What Kuwait is saying is: well we won't take other workers then. So that was obviously their response and some measure of pressure, shall we say, for the Philippines to reconsider its decision."

He added that the Kuwaiti government wants to close the embassy’s shelters for domestic workers because ‘it’s not allowed under their law,’ and that they did not want Philippines officials to contact the employers of workers who reported abuse or other concerns.

"We are not encouraging them to escape from their employers, this is what the employers fear of, but in case of abuses and they have to leave, then they have to have a place to go to," De Vega stressed, and that such measures are only taken to protect their citizens.

There are around 275,000 to 300,000 documented Filipinos in Kuwait, De Vega said. Around 70% are household workers and 30% are non-household workers.

Ranara’s murder is but one in a string of extreme abuses against migrant domestic workers in Kuwait. The country has failed to protect workers and hold employers accountable, and instead has attempted to find newer source countries with less stringent protection measures than those like the Philippines.