OFW ban sours Kuwait-Philippines relations as hundreds flee their employers

Hundreds of Filipino domestic staff in Kuwait fled from their employers to the Philippines embassy after President Rodrigo Duterte offered them a free light back home in the wake of a total and indefinite ban for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to work in Kuwait.

The ban and the repatriation follows reports of domestic abuse and several suicides and the case of a maid beaten to dead and placed in a freezer in an abandoned Kuwait apartment by her Lebanese employer.

Two planes full of workers arrived in Manila from Kuwait on February 12 on flights provided for free by commercial airlines at the president’s request. Earlier, the Philippine labour minister said more than 2,200 Filipinos were ready to take up Duterte’s offer.

Meanwhile, Kuwait officially reacted indignant, with the country’s foreign minister criticising Duterte’s remarks and saying that Kuwaiti officials were in contact with the Philippines to address the matter.

“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah said, adding that 170,000 Filipinos “live a decent life in Kuwait… but separate accidents unfortunately happen, and we are providing our Filipino counterparts with the results of the investigations.”

He went on saying that “we are surprised and we condemn statements from the Philippine president, especially as we are in contact with the Philippines on a high level to explain the workers’ conditions in Kuwait.”

Meanwhile, Kuwait lawmaker Safa Al Hashem blamed expats for the country’s diplomatic spat with the Philippines over the treatment of workers and called for foreigners to be banned from hiring maids in the country.

But Al Hashem, the country’s only female Member of Parliament, also said that “the [Kuwaiti] government represented by the secretary of state should send a stronger message [in response] and stop the aid to the Philippines,” she said, adding the recruitment of domestic workers from other countries was a option for Kuwaiti families.

In the Philippines, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he supported the ban, but warned that it may affect Manila’s trade relations with the rich oil-producing country.

Drilon, a former labour secretary, said countries under a deployment ban typically attempt to exert pressure on trade ties.

“There are consequences which we must be prepared to handle, particularly in area of trade… We should be able to withstand whatever pressure Kuwait may put on us,” he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque so far declined to comment on the ban’s potential impact on trade relations pending a meeting between Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Kuwaiti embassy officials this week in Manila.

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Hundreds of Filipino domestic staff in Kuwait fled from their employers to the Philippines embassy after President Rodrigo Duterte offered them a free light back home in the wake of a total and indefinite ban for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to work in Kuwait.

Hundreds of Filipino domestic staff in Kuwait fled from their employers to the Philippines embassy after President Rodrigo Duterte offered them a free light back home in the wake of a total and indefinite ban for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to work in Kuwait.

The ban and the repatriation follows reports of domestic abuse and several suicides and the case of a maid beaten to dead and placed in a freezer in an abandoned Kuwait apartment by her Lebanese employer.

Two planes full of workers arrived in Manila from Kuwait on February 12 on flights provided for free by commercial airlines at the president’s request. Earlier, the Philippine labour minister said more than 2,200 Filipinos were ready to take up Duterte’s offer.

Meanwhile, Kuwait officially reacted indignant, with the country’s foreign minister criticising Duterte’s remarks and saying that Kuwaiti officials were in contact with the Philippines to address the matter.

“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah said, adding that 170,000 Filipinos “live a decent life in Kuwait… but separate accidents unfortunately happen, and we are providing our Filipino counterparts with the results of the investigations.”

He went on saying that “we are surprised and we condemn statements from the Philippine president, especially as we are in contact with the Philippines on a high level to explain the workers’ conditions in Kuwait.”

Meanwhile, Kuwait lawmaker Safa Al Hashem blamed expats for the country’s diplomatic spat with the Philippines over the treatment of workers and called for foreigners to be banned from hiring maids in the country.

But Al Hashem, the country’s only female Member of Parliament, also said that “the [Kuwaiti] government represented by the secretary of state should send a stronger message [in response] and stop the aid to the Philippines,” she said, adding the recruitment of domestic workers from other countries was a option for Kuwaiti families.

In the Philippines, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he supported the ban, but warned that it may affect Manila’s trade relations with the rich oil-producing country.

Drilon, a former labour secretary, said countries under a deployment ban typically attempt to exert pressure on trade ties.

“There are consequences which we must be prepared to handle, particularly in area of trade… We should be able to withstand whatever pressure Kuwait may put on us,” he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque so far declined to comment on the ban’s potential impact on trade relations pending a meeting between Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Kuwaiti embassy officials this week in Manila.

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