Tuesday, October 28, 2008


OFWs stranded in Jeddah, duped by ‘fixers’
05/29/2007 03:26 PM

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More than a hundred Filipino workers who ran away from their employers from various parts of Saudi Arabia are awaiting repatriation at the Philippine consulate in Jeddah. They sought refuge at the consulate over the weekend to avoid being fined and jailed for overstaying beyond the two-month amnesty program for illegal aliens that the Saudi government offered, and is expiring on May 31.

The OFWs were hoping the embassy could help send them back to the Philippines before the expiration of the amnesty that the Saudi government has given to illegal aliens in the Kingdom to voluntarily leave.Roland "Bong" Concha, GMA News’ contributor from Jeddah, reported that the workers came from Riyadh, Makkah, Dammam, Qassim, Taif, Khamis Mushayt, Qatif and Jizan. They include women and their children who wanted to return to the Philippines.Concha said overstaying aliens in Saudi Arabia face imprisonment of up to six months and penalties after the amnesty period ends.Some of them, he said, had been victimized by “fixers" who offered an easy exit back door for a fee ranging from 500 to 2, 000 riyals (equivalent to P6, 000 to P25, 000).

Upon learning of this activity, welfare officer Abdurajik Samain immediately warned the OFWs to beware of such false promises, Jeddah-based Arab News reported. “There’s no easy way out. Don’t believe in talk about a backdoor because there’s no such thing as a backdoor," Samain told to the workers.Besides, he said the amnesty program does not apply to Filipino workers and other expatriate workers in the Kingdom. “That’s only for foreigners who came to the Kingdom for Umrah or Haj and overstayed their visas," the welfare officer explained.

Concha said most of the workers who have flocked to the Philippine consulate temporarily stayed under a bridge on Sitten Street where they patiently waited for representatives from the embassy’s passport department and take them to the airport for deportation.Mar Muncal, a worker who hailed from Pampanga, said the group decided to troop to the embassy over the weekend to avoid getting jailed and fined if they would not be able to leave the country by June

1. Muncal said he left his employer because apart from being paid much lower than the $375 monthly plus food allowance promised in his contract, he was also made to work overtime and do odd jobs.“Some of us have been sleeping under the bridge for weeks now. We went there because we were told that the Jawazat (Passport Department) would pick us up and deport us to the Philippines. However, the Jawazat officials always exclude us Filipinos when they come," said Muncal, a 40-year-old heavy equipment operator, the designated leader of the workers who called themselves taga-tulay," or “people of the bridge."

Concha said another group of Filipinos approached the distressed workers and encouraged them to stage a protest in front of the Philippine consulate to demand immediate repatriation.

However, the group allegedly tried to collect 100 riyals from each of the workers to cover the costs of transportation, placards and other paraphernalia for the protest actions.Most of the Filipinos who trooped to the consulate were skilled workers who had left their employers over job-related disputes.Arab News talked to Christopher Amazon, a 22-year-old father of one, who said he gave what little money he had saved to a group of men who promised to get him “directly to the Deportation Section" of the Immigration office, only to be told to go the Al-Kandara Bridge in order to be picked up by the Passport Department for deportation.But the police or passport department officers refused to pick them up.Amazon, who is from San Pedro in Laguna province, south of Manila, said he was with a group of 30 first-timers that arrived in the Kingdom on March 15.

He said the agency that recruited them, Arab Peninsula, gave them a contract stating that they would work in Riyadh for a railway station but the workers were sent to Dammam in the Eastern Province instead.Amazon said he left because he was made to do jobs at a train workshop when his contract stated that he was to be a cleaner at a station.Besides, he said, they were made to pay for their iqama (national ID), which costs more than SR600 monthly pay, or about $160.

“I managed to escape and I arrived in Jeddah with some acquaintances on May 14," he said.Ed, the engineer, said he decided to leave his company because while his contract stated a monthly salary of SR6,000, he was paid only SR3,000. “I tried repeatedly to resign but my employer refused to release me. When I sought help from the Labor Office in Alkhobar for immediate repatriation, I was told to try my luck in Jeddah," he said.

Concha reported that consulate and labor officers listed the names of the workers for processing. He said Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Marianito Roque had assured them of government’s assistance in negotiating with the placement agencies and their employers to provide them plane tickets, and coordinating with the Saudi authorities in securing their exit visa.The workers have been provided food, water and sleeping materials at the consulate, Concha reported. - GMANews.TV

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