IATF prodded on plight of stranded OFWs

THE Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) was urged to arrange for the immediate repatriation of up to 16,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are ready to go home.

Based on testimonies given to the House committee on public accounts on Friday, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo said these OFWs “have plane tickets, and exit visas and permits from their employers and host countries.”

Quoting the committee’s resource persons, she said of the 16,000 OFWs prepared to fly home, 8,000 are in Saudi Arabia, up to 4,000 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and another 4,000 in Qatar.

“They have paid for their airfare on their own, or with help from their families, relatives, friends, and their employers. They have been stranded overseas since the coronavirus outbreak. They have been raring to fly home to be with their loved ones. So we can understand that they are now getting desperate,” said Castelo.

Since they bought tickets on commercial flights, their return to the country would be at no cost to the government, she stressed.

Castelo added that the committee on public accounts chaired by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor learned that the key to the stranded OFWs’ repatriation is with the IATF, which has set a limit of 1,000 overseas Filipinos who could be allowed to fly home every day.

She explained that the limit is intended to allow the concerned agencies to test arriving OFWs and other Filipinos for COVID-19, shelter the workers in accommodation facilities while waiting for the test results and later transport them to their provinces.

Castelo noted that the agencies have streamlined and expedited their work after President Duterte ordered them to send home 24,000 workers stranded in Metro Manila three weeks ago.

“The IATF and the concerned agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), should now be able to allow the return of more workers and attend to their needs upon arrival,” Castelo stressed.

She said if the IATF doubles its repatriation limit, the 16,000 OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar could be with their families here in less than two weeks.

For those who have no plane tickets but have exit permits, she said the DFA, DOLE and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration have expressed readiness to charter planes to fly them home.