Adrian Baccay

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait will repatriate as many as 330 nationals tomorrow. More than 200 of the Filipinos to be sent home are currently at the Philippine Embassy shelter, including domestic helpers who fled their employment and those who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, those who have medical issues or are currently living in Kuwait without legal papers may be returned home.

“This is a necessary endeavor because we have several runaway housemaids at the shelter and we need to send them back to their loved ones. That is part of our mandate to protect the wellbeing of every Filipino abroad,” explained Philippine Embassy Spokesperson Adrian Baccay.

The embassy organized a chartered flight in collaboration with the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila and the Office of Migrant Workers Affairs (OMWA) at the request of the embassy in Kuwait. Many of those stranded at the embassy have been living in the shelter for months, have not received salaries or back pay from employers in Kuwait and have faced various forms of maltreatment at the hands of employers.

Kuwait and the Philippines have a contentious relationship over the treatment of domestic workers and the protection of their rights – which include not more than a 12-hour workday, one day off every week, a full month’s annual holiday and the domestic worker’s right to keep his or her passport. Many of those scheduled to go home have already been cleared by the Kuwait Ministry of Interior’s immigration bureau for travel.

“We want them to go back to their families – we managed to fix their issues prior to their flight, which is the reason why we only set until 8 am today (March 1) to apply for the chartered flight. Included in the list are Filipinos whose records are clean with no travel bans or absconding cases, or else they need to wait for the next chartered flight if they want to be repatriated for free,” Baccay said.

The Philippine Embassy has also been faced with challenges due to a backlog of applications for passport renewals and long queues for consular services at its temporary location in Hawally. There are an estimated 230,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, the majority of whom are domestic helpers. The Philippine Embassy has facilitated the acquisition of papers and travel requirements such as exit visas for Filipinos, especially those categorized as undocumented workers, to guarantee their safe return to their families.

“This flight is for free – the Philippine Airlines plane came to Kuwait just for this, so we want the aircraft to be filled to capacity,” Baccay said. He assured those who fail to catch the flight tomorrow will not be abandoned by their government, as the DFA has enough funds to transport more Filipinos back to Manila if necessary.

“All they need to do is register at the embassy. We will try to assess their circumstances and if they want to go back home, they can wait until the next flight. We are expecting chartered flights on a quarterly basis, so every three months probably we can send a request to our airlines. The last chartered flight was in December last year,” he concluded.