COVER STORY

A long way home: The plight of workers in Kuwait

More than 300 overseas Filipino workers arrived on Wednesday after availing of Kuwait's amnesty program.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) —  Stories of abuse, despair and helplessness resonated from among another group of workers arriving from Kuwait.

They availed of Kuwait's amnesty program which allowed overstaying workers to leave without paying fines or penalties.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa said majority of the 8,000 domestic workers in the Middle Eastern nation claimed of abuse from employers.

When asked if any of the more than 300 workers had bad experiences with their employers, almost all raised their hands.

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"I was sold," said Chatherine Antaran, who worked in Kuwait for two years and two months and had multiple employers.

"Ang first employer ko po talaga is Kuwaiti po. Tapos binalik po nila ako kasi dumating na po 'yung kadama nila na galing sa Nepal, and then binalik ako sa agency tapos kinuha po ako ng isang Egyptian. Tapos pagdating sa Egyptian, binenta naman po ako," she said.

[Translation:My first employer was a Kuwaiti. They returned because their housemaid came back from Nepal, and then I was returned to the agency before I was taken in by an Egyptian. The Egyptian then sold me.]

Antaran said she lasted for a year before she was "sold" to another Kuwaiti national so that her employers can save by eliminating the agency who was supposed to handle her.

"On the spot talaga, kaliwaan, kumbaga," she said.

But Antaran only stayed with her new employer for a month before she decided to escape.

"Sobra po 'yung pagod, over po 'yung trabaho, over sa oras, tapos halos po hindi po magbibigay ng pagkain," she said. "Magbibigay man ng pagkain, duduraan pa. Parang akala mo hayop 'yung kakain."

[Translation:The work is hard, it's exhausting, and I work overtime, and I don't get fed. If we do eat, they'll spit on our food. It's like they're feeding animals.]

The 32-year-old left her Kuwaiti employers, leaving behind her documents as well. Antaran decided to work at a school in the same country.

Antaran said she's looking forward to her children, her husband, and her mother picking her up at the airport.

When she was asked if she would want to return to Kuwait, Antaran said, "Wala. Wala. Hindi."

'They barge into my room'

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Hailing from Basilan, 38-year-old Nasar Segundo wanted to support her parents, as well as provide education to her nieces and nephews.

"Inasahan ko sana na pagpunta ko doon mabait ang mga amo ko, pero hindi po ako napalad sa mga amo ko," she said.

[Translation:I was expecting my employers to be nice, but I was not fortunate.]

Segundo stayed in Kuwait for six years, but she was only with her Kuwaiti employer for 10 months.

"Ang ayaw ko po sa kanila, lagi nila akong sinisigawan," she said. "Pag pumunta sila sa kwarto hindi sila nagna-knock ng door, bigla na lang silang pupunta sa loob."

[Translation: I don't like that they yell at me. When they go to my room, they barge in, they don't knock.]

She said she felt disrespected when her employer barged into her room while she was changing.

When she escaped her employers, she continued looking for part-time jobs to be able to send money back home, but this meant facing the risk of arrest.

"Pag nakakita na po ako ng pulis, doon na po ako kinakabahan kasi nanghuhuli ang mga pulis doon," she said.

[Translation:I feel terrified when I see police because they are arresting people.]

Upon her return to the Philippines, Segundo said she would no longer return to Kuwait.

"Pag halimbawa naman po sa ibang bansa, pero ayaw ko na po 'yung Middle East. Kasi naranasan ko na," she said.

[Translation:For example, in another country. But not in the Middle East. I've experienced it.]

Two years of abuse

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Rochelle Nania was a single mother of two. She first got pregnant when she was 15 years old.

Nania went to Kuwait in 2015 to find a stable source of income.

"Makapagpadala ako sa pamilya ko, mapag-aral 'yung mga anak ko, masuportahan sila sa mga pangangailangan nila. Magkaroon ng sariling bahay," she said.

[Translation: I want to send money to my family, to have my kids study, to support their needs, and to have my own house.]

But the 25-year-old mother said what she least expected happened.

"Yung unang employer ko, nananakit siya. Pero tiniis ko lang yun para matapos ko 'yung dalawang taon ko," she said.

[Translation: My first employer, he hurt me. But I just endured it so that I can finish my two years.]

Nania kept her ordeal from her family.

"Ayaw kong malaman nila na nahihirapan ako doon, ang alam nila, okay lang," Nania said. "At least kahit naranasan ko 'yung mga ganoong bagay sa Kuwait, kahit papaano may nabago ako sa sarili ko."

[Translation: I don't want them to know that I was having a difficult time there. They should just know I'm okay. At least even when I went through those experiences in Kuwait, there was something in me that changed.]

Upon her return to the Philippines, Nania said she wants to make it up to her children, for those times she was absent from their birthdays.

"Babawi ako sa kanila sa mga panahon na wala ako dito," she said.

[Translation: I'll make up for the times when I was not here.]

No salary for three months

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A smiling Elites Laggui raised her hand when the workers were asked if they were planning to stay in the country.

When Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella asked if they will be exploring jobs in other countries, Laggui kept her hand up.

"Di ko maipaliwanag ang saya ko," she said. She grinned afterwards.

[Translation: I could not explain my joy.]

Laggui said her employer did not give pay her for three months, which forced her to leave them and seek jobs outside her employment contract.

"Takot kaming mag-ano sa labas pero pinilit pa rin naming magtrabaho para lang may maipadalang pera sa Pinas po," she said.

[Translation: I was scared to go out but I forced myself to work just so we could send money.]

Laggui supports three children aged 13, 11, and 9.

When asked if she had money for them, the 37-year-old mother said: "Lahat lahat, kaya wala akong ipon, kasi sa kanila lahat."

[I gave it all to them; that's why I don't have savings]."

A senior citizen OFW

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Rosalita Parado was already 52 when she packed her bags for Kuwait in 2002, leaving a sari-sari store in Sampaloc, Quezon.

"Dumating na lang ang visa. Kasi nag-agency lang ako doon sa may Taft Avenue," she said.

[Translation: The visa just arrived. I just availed of agency services along Taft Avenue]

Parado was a housemaid with three Filipinas, a Syrian and an Indonesian. They all worked under a female employee.

"Mabuti naman 'yung amo ko, kaso naman nagugutom kaming mga katulong doon," she said.

[Translation: My employer was nice, but the housemaids got hungry there.]

She only stayed with her employer for 10 months, opting to do part-time jobs until 2018.

Parado said she went to Kuwait despite her age because she wanted to make sure her three children will get a decent education.

"Hindi nga nakatapos eh  [They weren't able to finish]," she said.

When she heard of Kuwait's amnesty program, she took the chance because she did not earn enough to buy a ticket for a flight back to the country.

"Sabi ko'y pag ako'y bumalik dito sa Pilipinas di na ako aalis dahil nga may edad. at saka gusto kong magtinda-tinda tulad ng dati," Parado said.

[Translation: If I return to the Philippines, I would not leave again because of my age, and I just want to sell in a store like I used to.]

Philippine Airlines Flight PR127 landed at 10:10 in the morning, a direct flight from Bahrain. The plane carried more than 200 workers.

Another plane, Gulf Air GF154, landed at the same time,  which also brought 125 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the same Middle Eastern country.

This is the fourth batch of workers from the country after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered their repatriation.

On Monday, the Philippines banned sending workers to Kuwait, and began to repatriate thousands of Filipinos. The first batch of more than 300 workers arrived on the same day.

The ban was triggered by reports of abuse by Kuwaiti employers, highlighted by the tragic fate of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in January inside a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait.