Philippine President Lifts Ban on Migrant Workers Heading to Kuwait

Philippine President Lifts Ban on Migrant Workers Heading to Kuwait

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 18:15
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lifted on Wednesday a ban on migrant workers traveling to Kuwait for jobs, ending a months-long dispute that erupted when a murdered Filipina maid was found in her employer's freezer.

"The president directed me to lift the ban totally... both for the domestic and skilled professionals," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told AFP.

"The president deemed that our overseas workers are protected in Kuwait and he will no longer see incidents of maltreatment, hopefully."

The news comes days after Kuwait and the Philippines inked a deal to regulate and protect the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who seek higher-paid employment in the wealthy Gulf state.

The spat, simmering for months, reached its lowest point in April when Kuwaiti authorities expelled Manila's envoy over videos showing embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee bosses in Kuwait.

Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry.

The Philippines is a major labor exporter, especially to the Middle East. About a tenth of the population works abroad, and the earnings they send home have bolstered the Philippine economy for decades.

The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.

Domestic helpers account for more than 65 percent of the more than 260,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, according to the Philippine foreign ministry.

Duterte in February prohibited workers from heading to Kuwait when domestic helper Joanna Demafelis's corpse was discovered in a freezer in her employer's home.

Relations appeared to recover after a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for Demafelis's killing.

Following the verdict, Duterte announced plans to visit Kuwait to seal an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for the Filipinos working in the Gulf nation.

But after the rescue videos were released by the Philippine foreign ministry and Manila's ambassador was ordered out of Kuwait, relations plunged again.

Duterte declared on April 30 that the ban on Filipino workers leaving for the Gulf nation was permanent and urged his citizens to come home if they were being mistreated.

Kuwait sought to calm the confrontation a day later, calling it largely the result of a misunderstanding. Tensions quickly cooled and the two nations on Friday reached an agreement on worker protections.

"Even our labor diplomacy has improved and our relationship and diplomatic ties are now stronger," Bello said on Wednesday.

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