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The Philippines Enforces New Travel Ban

On Monday, Filipino citizens were barred from traveling to Kuwait for employment. This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte angrily condemned the Kuwaiti government for excusing the abuse of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), specifically Filipino domestic workers.

The Philippine premier held up gruesome pictures of the body known to be of Joanna Demafelis, a 29 year-old migrant worker who was found in a freezer in a flat in Kuwait.

The investigation has concluded that the body of the domestic worker was kept for over a year. There were signs that indicated her being strangled and tortured. On live television, President Duterte accused Kuwait, saying “every abuse committed against an OFW is an affront against us, as a sovereign nation.”

(Source: Reuters. Filipino workers fill out paperwork in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, Philippines)

(Source: Reuters. Filipino workers fill out paperwork in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, Philippines)

Following President Duterte’s speech, four hundred Filipinos were flown from Kuwait to Manila on Monday. On the same day, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs publicly said that authorities are going to repatriate 10,000 migrant workers who are overstaying their visas in Kuwait.

Currently, 10% of the Philippine economy depends on remittances. Two million Filipinos work and live in the Gulf region. And of the 2 million, 252,000 work in Kuwait. Many are domestic workers like Joanna Demafelis.

Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, face unfair treatment. The Kuwaiti government granted domestic workers rights, such as:  a weekly day off, overtime compensation, and a minimum wage of US$200. However, Human Rights Watch reported that the work environment, as well as the employers, are not subject to inspections, and oftentimes these laws are not fully enforced. Widespread abuses have been reported, including physical and sexual assault, forced labor, and deportation for minor crimes.

Reports show that for weeks, President Duterte has been considering the possibility of a travel ban. Duterte’s denunciation on the Kuwaiti government has also highly intensified in the last week. After commenting that Joanna Demafelis was “roasted like a pig,” he asked, “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?”

On Tuesday, Kuwaiti foreign minister Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah mentioned an “escalation” on the part of the Philippine government and spoke to reporters: “We condemn the statements of the Philippine president, especially since we are in contact with the Philippines at the highest level to fully explain the state of Filipino workforce in Kuwait.”

However one Kuwaiti member of Parliament lashed out on Twitter, saying that the “[Kuwaiti] government should send a stronger message [to the Philippines]” and “stop sending aid to the Philippines.” The member of Parliament Safa Al-Hashem then proposed an extra $3,300 for foreign workers to obtain driver’s licenses, but was rejected by the parliament.

(Source: Facebook. Johanna Demafelis was a Filipino migrant worker in Kuwait)

(Source: Facebook. Johanna Demafelis was a Filipino migrant worker in Kuwait)

President Duterte has called for a “total ban” on employment in Kuwait. This includes migrant workers who already have obtained permits for employment, but have not yet left the Philippines. There was widespread confusion after announcement of the travel ban, but the Philippine government confirmed that migrant workers who are satisfied with their work conditions in Kuwait will not be subject to repatriation. Workers who currently stay in the Philippines for vacation will also be able to leave for Kuwait if they wish.

As of Monday, 400 migrant workers were flown to the Philippines from Kuwait. President Duterte has said that the government will provide assistance in finding jobs in the Philippines.