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Manila, abuse and violence: ‘Total ban’ on Filipino workers going to Kuwait

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Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Taking advantage of an amnesty program signed with the government of Kuwait, the Department for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines is organizing the repatriation of 10 thousand migrant workers from the emirates. This follows the “total ban” imposed two days ago by Manila on domestic labour migration to Kuwait, which includes migrants already in possession of work permits but who have not yet left for the Gulf country. Previously, President Rodrigo Duterte had lashed out against Kuwait for the frequent cases of abuse and exploitation to which Filipino workers are subject.

According to Foreign Ministry estimates, there are over 250 thousand Filipino workers in Kuwait, the majority of whom are employed in domestic service. However, domestic workers are not covered by ordinary labor law in the Emirates. Human rights activists have documented widespread abuse, including non-payment of wages, long working hours without days off, physical and sexual assaults and no clear channels of redress.

Last January, the Philippines government had suspended the sending of workers to Kuwait, after Duterte had declared that abuses by employers have prompted several domestic helpers to commit suicide. The new measure ordered by Manila follows the discovery, last week, of the body of 29 year-old Joanna Demafelis, a Filipina maid, in the freezer of an apartment in Kuwait. It is suspected that the body has been stored in the freezer for more than a year. On February 9, 2018, Duterte launched a harsh attack on the Middle East country. In a lively public discourse, he brandished the photograph of the young woman, denouncing the sexual abuse suffered by female workers, often also forced to feed on the waste of her employers. Addressing Kuwait, the president said: “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values? “.

Over 2.3 million Filipinos are registered as foreign workers. They send more than 1.6 billion euros home every month, money that feeds one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Manila now looks to China and Russia as “alternative markets” for Filipino migrant workers.

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