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Kuwait, Philippines crisis after workers’ visa suspensions

May 27, 2023 at 12:30 pm

The Philippines stopped sending workers to Kuwait in January after a Filipino migrant worker was found dead in a freezer, the latest incident in what Manila called a pattern of abuse in the Gulf state.

A new conflict has occurred between Kuwait and the Philippines over the protection of domestic workers and the rights of Kuwaiti employers after the Gulf state suspended visas for Filipino workers due to the “wrong practices” by the Philippines Embassy in the country.

With about a quarter of a million Filipino workers in Kuwait, most of whom are domestic workers, the differences between the two countries are not new. There have been several rounds of talks in the past to reach understandings, but it seems they haven’t reached a resolution that satisfies both parties.

The suspension of visas comes after the Philippines stopped sending domestic workers to Kuwait in February for the first time after the body of Jullebee Ranara was found in the Kuwaiti desert in January.

Large numbers of Filipino nationals work abroad, with about 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product coming from expat transfers.

On Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior confirmed in a statement that it had suspended visas for Filipino workers “as a result of the wrong practices” of the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait as well as the “crimes” committed by some members of the Filipino community against Kuwaitis.

The statement indicated that the most prominent violation is the embassy’s sheltering of Filipino workers in a centre for it, communicating with Kuwaiti citizens and summoning them without the permission of the Kuwaiti authorities, forcing travel agencies to search for runaway domestic workers and “playing the role of state institutions” and pressuring Kuwaiti employers to add contractual clauses against their will.

The statement added that Kuwait stipulated during the talks the “recognition and acknowledgement” of the embassy of the Philippines that it had violated Kuwaiti laws and decisions and had breached diplomatic norms. It also asked that it promises not to repeat these acts.

In return, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior will assess the situation and ensure that the embassy adheres to the conditions for at least three months: “After which it decides what it deems appropriate.”

READ: Kuwait to continue ban on visas for Philippines workers after talks fail to resolve labour dispute

The statement said that the Philippine side rejected these conditions and, therefore, the Ministry of Interior: “Adheres to its position rejecting any violations of the state’s sovereignty and the dignity of its citizens and continues its decision to suspend all types of visas for the Filipino community until further notice,” while continuing to renew the residency of those who have a valid residency.

A crisis between the two countries ended more than five years ago with the Philippine side’s apology in 2018 for what Kuwait considered a violation of its sovereignty after the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait “rescued” a number of Filipinos working in homes amid reports of violations.

The Philippine Foreign Minister said at the time that the embassy had to “help” Filipino workers who sought help because some situations were considered a matter of life or death, stressing respect for Kuwait’s sovereignty and laws: “But the interest of Filipino workers is also very important.”

The Philippine side did not comment on the Kuwaiti statement.

However, after the two sides’ talks last week, the Philippine Foreign Ministry shared that its delegation affirmed its “full respect for Kuwaiti laws.”

The statement on 18 May conveyed the measures taken by the Embassy and Government of the Philippines regarding the services provided to the migrant workers: “Are solely to ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens.”

The Philippines’ Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega remarked in press statements last week that Kuwait’s suspension of entry visas for Filipinos came in response to Manila’s suspension of sending new domestic workers to the Gulf country in February, and that the Kuwaiti decision aims to pressure his country to lift this ban.

De Vega noted that Kuwait is concerned about two issues and considers them a violation of its laws, namely the establishment of a shelter for runaway domestic workers and communicating with Kuwaiti employers regarding reports of violations.

He added: “Providing protection to a country’s citizens abroad is a well-established duty of consular offices under international law and convention,” adding that they do not encourage them to run away from their employers, but in the case of abuse, they should have a place to go to.

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