Wednesday, October 29, 2008

138 illegal Pinoys in Saudi back in Manila
06/13/2007 07:43 PM

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(Update) - The first batch of 138 Filipino repatriates from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia returned home early afternoon Wednesday with different sad stories to tell.Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal said the mass repatriation prioritized 100 women and 38 children, including a one-year-old child of an overstayer.

The repatriates were among close to a thousand Filipinos who trooped to the Philippine consulate general in Jeddah in the past two weeks to seek documentation assistance for their voluntary deportation and avoid being jailed or fined for overstaying in the Kingdom.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said the Saudi government has extended amnesty to a total of 750 Filipinos, most of them with expired visas and others ran away from their abusive employers.

The other Filipinos granted amnesty in Saudi Arabia would soon be repatriated from Jeddah.Many of the Filipinos have fallen victims to "fixers" who promised them easier deportation through the "back door" in Jeddah in exchange for a huge sum of money. While waiting for Saudi police and immigration officers to pick them up on dates specified by the "fixers," the Filipinos, less than a hundred of them, lived under a bridge.When the two-month amnesty period offered by the Saudi government for illegal workers was coming to an end, the Filipinos decided to go to the consulate for refuge.Over the weekend, the number of Filipinos awaiting deportation in Jeddah has swollen to 850, according to a newspaper report in Saudi Arabia.

Philippine consulate employees and Saudi immigration personnel worked overtime to accommodate the rising number of deportees – largely Filipinos who have overstayed their visas in the Kingdom.As of 10 pm Sunday (Jeddah time), 497 OFWs, including children, have been processed for repatriation, according to Cristobal.A headcount of Filipinos seeking assistance at the Port Area reached 597 as of 3:30 pm Sunday, but 150 others were transported later in the afternoon by bus to the processing center by nighttime and more were coming, Arab News reported on Monday. As of 8 pm, the report said, the number has risen to 850 persons.

The Filipinos were temporary housed at the Haj Terminal, courtesy of the Saudi government. Cristobal said. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo has authorized funding for the food of the OFWs until they are repatriated.

Ronald Concha & Charles Tabbu reported for Arab News that Welfare Officer Jake Samain clarified that those being readied for repatriation are Filipinos who have overstayed their visas while in the Kingdom for Umrah or Haj, or for those whose contracts have been finished.Samain clarified that the repatriation program does not cover workers with unfinished contracts.Consul General Pendosina Lomondot said the number of repatriates has swollen after local authorities in Jeddah agreed to accommodate overstayers wanting to return home.With that, the consulate also opened its facilities to other overstayers who wish to join those still in the site being used by the Saudi Passport and Immigration Department to “process" would-be repatriates.“

The officials of the host government have granted our request to allow our distressed compatriots to leave and I am very grateful for that," the newspaper report quoted Lomondot who earlier requested for exit papers only for about 250 people who had sought help from the consulate on May 27.

The report said at least 52 women were moved to the deportation center near the airport on Sunday. One of them said they were told by Saudi officials to just get ready because their flight to Manila would be announced anytime.On the first day, there were just close to a hundred Filipinos who went to the embassy, including those who ran away from abusive employers.

The number increased to over 100 hundred on the second day.The consulate officers had to solicit donations from civic organizations and kind-hearted individuals in the Kingdom for food and other basic necessities of the stranded Filipinos.Arab News said that while some tried to take advantage of the distressed, there were also plenty of kind-hearted compatriots who lend a helping hand and donated food.

Among these were the OFW Cooperative Council led by Wenifred Castolome, the Boholano Community Group of Red Bual, the OFW Family Coop under Dawood Engay, the Bag-ong Bicol Saro nin Jeddah of Danny Londonio, and staff of the Philippine Sunrise International School (PSIS).“We have to continue helping our distressed kababayans at least by giving them food. We have a crisis in our midst," said Castolome, whose group was among those who have been donated food to those holed up at the consulate since May 27.Other donors are encouraged to course their donations to the consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section (ANS) headed by Vicky Salian. - GMANews.TV

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