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Chiz: Stranded, unpaid OFWs in Saudi create humanitarian crisis

SENATOR Chiz Escudero has urged the government to exhaust all its resources to bring home some 11,000 Filipino workers, dubbed the nation’s “modern heroes,” and their families who have been stranded in Saudi Arabia for months, calling the situation a humanitarian crisis. 

Escudero said an economic slowdown in Saudi Arabia brought about by declining oil prices in the world market has left thousands of overseas Filipino workers jobless.
   
“The case of the reported some 11,000 Filipino workers and their families stranded for months now in Saudi Arabia should be treated as a national security issue,” said Escudero.
   
“This is a full-blown humanitarian crisis that requires the immediate attention of the full machinery of the government,” said Escudero. “Many of them have not been paid their salaries, forcing the workers and their dependents to live in tents.”
   
Escudero lauded Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III for personally going to Saudi Arabia to address the needs of the stranded OFWs.
   
Bello’s presence in the kingdom had raised the level of much-needed representation of the Philippine government with the host country in dealing with the issue.
   
However, he cautioned against treating the current crisis as a purely labor issue.
   
“Beyond extending to our workers needed government assistance for their most immediate needs, we need to be able to mobilize the full range of our diplomatic relations and resources to forge bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia and other major OFW receiving countries to ensure that practical mechanisms are in place to prevent or minimize the mass suffering of our people abroad such as this.”
   
He urged the government to immediately repatriate the stranded Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and assist them in pursuing unpaid wages now that their work permits have expired.
   
“There are existing mechanisms under the Saudi law that we could be utilized for these types of cases and the government should immediately hire a Saudi lawyer to pursue them,” said Escudero.
   
The government should again raise with Saudi counterparts the issue of kafala or sponsorship system that ties workers to their employers, to make it easier for workers to change employers on-site, even on a selective and interim basis for now, to deal with the crisis at hand.
   
Many companies in Saudi Arabia are having problems due to financial difficulties spawned by the drop in global oil prices to as low as $30 per barrel early this year from $150 in 2008.