By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Kuwait has a plan to allow the return of domestic helpers stranded abroad as of December 7. The government has set up 58 buildings in Kuwait where 80,000 workers who are expected to arrive within a four-month period on direct flights will stay for their mandatory 14-day quarantine period. The plan will begin with India and the Philippines, two out of 34 countries from which flights to Kuwait remain suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Citizens of these countries with valid visas can return to Kuwait only if they spend a 14-day quarantine period at a country not included in the ban list and have a negative PCR test result. Among the thousands waiting to return, however, there are also those who face challenges that may result in never coming back to Kuwait.

Kyra, not her real name, had received an elated voice message via WhatsApp from her female employer in Kuwait, informing her the government will soon allow the return of stranded domestic helpers from all countries. But Kyra was unimpressed; in fact she did not even bother answering her message. According to her, this was because her boss did not keep her promise to send her money while she was stuck in Manila.

“She said she will send me at least 3,000 pesos (around KD 20) a month while I waited for the ban to be lifted by the Kuwaiti government. I have three kids and they are all studying. We need to send them to school, eat and pay our bills – so when my employer promised to send a minimum amount so we could survive, I trusted her. But all I got from her when I messaged her twice was ‘inshallah’. So I stopped messaging her and now that her government wants us to return, she is happy to send me a message that I can come back? Not anymore!” Kyra exclaimed.

“She did not send me even one fils! And now she has the guts to message me that I can come back by December? I am not going at all – in fact I am now applying for Hong Kong and will leave by next week to work there,” she said. Her Kuwait visa will expire in April 2021. She said after working four years straight without vacation, she took her annual leave on Feb 8, 2020. “At that time, we didn’t know about the coronavirus. My employer told me to stay in the Philippines for 45 days, for which I was very grateful. She did not give me one month’s salary as mentioned in the domestic labor law, but I didn’t demand it either,” said Kyra.

In order to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country, Kuwait banned passengers from 34 countries from arriving directly to Kuwait, including the Philippines, which has recorded over 434,000 infections in a population of more than 100 million, against around 143,000 cases in Kuwait with a population of 4.2 million.

Quarantining in Dubai
Cathy, another domestic helper, is quarantining in Dubai in order to rejoin her employer in Kuwait. “I went on holiday on Feb 6, 2020 and was expected by my employer to return on March 6, 2020. But the pandemic prevented me from coming on time. I was stuck for 10 months in the Philippines, but I am happy that I received my monthly salary from my employer – KD 120 – every month. I was really embarrassed that I was getting the full salary even when I was staying at home in Bicol,” she said.

“So I told my employer to arrange for my immediate return. Now I am quarantining in Dubai. I arrived here on Nov 16 and my quarantine period will end on Dec 4. I am happy that I was not abandoned by my boss during the entire pandemic. I am happy to be coming back to my employer of nine years,” Cathy told Kuwait Times.

“During my entire time in the Philippines, it was a huge challenge for my family, especially after my husband’s company closed down. But it was a great opportunity for us to enjoy life together. We created a vegetable garden in the yard, then sold the produce to our neighbors. It helped us, and we survived because of the KD 120 I was receiving monthly from my employer. As much as I wanted to stay in the Philippines, the kindness of the Kuwaiti family cannot be set aside and I owe much gratitude to them,” she noted.

Marissa, also a housemaid, has another story to share. Her employer pleaded with her to come back via Dubai immediately, but her expired passport is preventing her from returning. “Before I left for vacation to the Philippines, I renewed my passport. Based on my receipt, I should’ve received my new passport by March. I thought I would be back in Kuwait by then to collect it. But we were overwhelmed by the pandemic and my supposed return in March did not happen,” she said.

“My passport expired in September, and I am not allowed to leave the country. I also cannot apply for a new passport in Manila because I have a new one ready in Kuwait. My boss coordinated with the Philippine Embassy, but they said only the applicant can collect it. So I was advised to send a request letter to my town of Legazpi in Albay province to allow the Philippine Embassy to send my passport to Legazpi, but I am waiting for it until now,” she said.