First batch of repatriated OFWs back from Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — Hundreds of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Kuwait have arrived in Manila on Monday.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa told CNN Philippines Sunday, around 400 Filipinos, including at least 18 children, will be repatriated after applying for amnesty in Kuwait.

This is only the first batch, as there are at least 1,300 of 2,500 applicants who have been allowed to leave, Villa said.

All 1,300 had either overstayed or escaped from their employers. Under the amnesty program, all overstaying workers will be allowed leave without suffering fines or penalties.

"Karamihan ng mga tumakas ay may complaint against their employers (Most of those who escaped have complaints against their employers)," Villa said.

He said of 10,000 overstaying OFWs, 8,000 are domestic workers and majority of whom have claimed abuse from employers.

For Filipinos who want to apply for amnesty, he said they should go to the embassy and get clearance from the Immigration office in Kuwait. Tickets will then be issued and a bus will take the workers to the airport.

The application for amnesty began on January 29 and will end on February 22. 

Villa, however, said they will request the Kuwait government to extend it.

"(Sana) samantalahin nila 'yung pagkakataon na ito na binigay ng Kuwait government at ng ating gobyerno na makauwi sila habang may amnesty," he said.  "Sana ay pagbigyan yung ating kahilingan na ma-extend 'yung amnesty para lahat ng nag-overstay at tumakas na kababayan, tumakas sa kanilang employer, ay makauwi na."

(Translation: I hope they would take advantage of the chance given by the Kuwait and the Philippine government to go home. I hope the Kuwait government would also extend the amnesty so all who are overstaying and those who escaped from their employers can go home.)

Villa also hopes the two governments can sit and talk about the welfare of migrant workers.

"Sana matuloy na rin 'yung pag-uusap ng Kuwait at Pilipinas tungkol doon sa Memorandum of Understanding on the deployment of domestic workers para makapagbigay ng karagdagang proteksyon sa ating mga kasambahay na nagtatrabaho sa Kuwait," Villa said.

(Translation: I hope Kuwait and the Philippines can talk about the Memorandum of Understanding on the deployment of domestic workers so we can assure protection of domestic workers in Kuwait.)

He said Kuwait's Ministry of Interior has approved the draft agreement, which has been pending for three years. It is now up to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to approve it, and Villa hopes it will be signed within the year.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, said Duterte gave priority “to the right to life of our OFWs and will not allow further inhuman treatment to be inflicted” to the Filipino workers in Kuwait.

He added repatriated workers will receive financial assistance from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and may be deployed to “more humane” countries such as Oman and Bahrain.

Kuwait is a top destination for Filipino workers. The latest data from Philippine Overseas Employment Administration show there are some 240,000 Filipinos in the country as of 2016.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday ordered Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to bring home distressed OFWs in 72 hours, after a body of a Filipina worker was discovered inside a freezer in Kuwait.

Senators are seeking assistance for Filipino workers who will be sent home from Kuwait, saying there should be jobs or other means of livelihood ready.

CNN Philippines' Yvette Morales contributed to this report.