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Free airplane ride for OFWs in Kuwait

A Cebu Pacific Air plane taking off Photo © http://www.philippineflightnetwork.com/

LOW-cost carrier Cebu Pacific Air has responded to the recent call of President Rodrigo Duterte to bring home Filipino workers from Kuwait for free by mounting a special chartered flight to the said Gulf state.

The CEB said it will help the government repatriate Filipino workers from Kuwait by deploying an Airbus A330 aircraft – the largest in its fleet for the charter flight, which has a maximum capacity of 436 passengers.

Free food and refreshment, as well as baggage allowance for all passengers on this charter flight will be provided, the CEB said.

However, the CEB disclosed that it is still working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait for the final travel arrangements as the airline no longer has regular commercial air service between Manila and Kuwait.

Duterte, last week, said Overseas Filipino Workers in Kuwait who want to go home may be repatriated within the next 72 hours. He issued the statement after a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, was found dead, stuffed in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.

“I want them out of (Kuwait), those who want to go out, in 72 hours. We will count our lives by the hours because apparently, every hour, there is suffering and agony, brutality committed against Filipinos,” Duterte, in a press conference, said.

Image © https://beta.philstar.com

The Philippines suspended the deployment of workers to Kuwait last January due to the series of questionable deaths of Filipinos there in that Arab state.

Duterte said the deployment ban will stay until the government is sure that overseas workers are safe in Kuwait, where 103 Filipinos died in 2017, up from 82 the previous year.

“I am ready to take drastic steps that will help preserve Filipino life and limb. We do not intend to offend any government or anyone. But if a ban is what is needed, then let it be so,” Duterte said.

“The ban continues today and I don’t know up to what time,” he added.

Meanwhile, recruitment consultant Manny Geslani said Duterte will make the ban on sending Filipino workers to Kuwait permanent if one more death or a case of maltreatment reaches his office.

Geslani, at the same time, explained that despite Duterte’s pronouncement, the return of the Filipino workers to the country will not happen overnight as the Department of Labor and Employment will still issue advisories for them to return and leave their employers. He also observed that OFWs will surely think twice if they return home since many of the Filipinos have live contracts either skilled or domestic workers.

Furthermore, most of their employers might not easily issue exit visas since many skilled workers are important to their business and for the employers of the household service workers who spent much for the entry of the workers will not easily give them up, he added.

Geslani disclosed that more than 20,000 household service workers (HSWs) which have been issued visas and were awaiting their departure are now stranded in the accommodations of licensed recruitment agencies deploying to Kuwait and the visas of these 20,000 HSWs may soon expire by the end of this month.

He said recruitment agencies may have to divert these workers to countries receiving HSWs like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and United Arab Emirates while at the same suffering massive losses with their principals who have paid for their services.

Geslani further said that there will be a massive drop in dollar remittances amounting to over 1.3 billion dollars if the government pushes through with the threat of a permanent deployment ban to Kuwait which has over 270,000 documented workers now in that country.

Benjie Vergara
A veteran reporter covering the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. He is currently writing for Manila Times, the Philippines' oldest newspaper.

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