Repatriating two million OFWS from the Middle East

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B Jimenez (The Freeman) - January 13, 2020 - 12:00am

We have, at the very least, two million Filipinos in the Middle East, both documented and undocumented. How do we bring them home to save them from the war erupting in Iran?

The current tension between Iran (aided by its allies Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and also secretly supported by Russia and China), on the one hand, and the USA (with its supporters in the region; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates), may escalate into a full-blown world war. Qatar, being a mortal enemy of Saudi Arabia, may also be sympathetic to Iran. Being familiar with the region, having lived in Kuwait, as a diplomat for three years, I’m familiar with the realities on the ground. I also have close ties with Filipino communities there. It was my dream to unite all two million Filipinos in the Middle East.

There are 1.829 million Filipinos in that region consisting of at least 15 countries. In Saudi Arabia alone there are 1,020,000 Filipinos, 276,819 in the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi, etc.), 276,819 in Kuwait, 246,000 in Qatar, 60,000 in Bahrain, 40,000 in Oman, 31,000 in Israel, 30,000 in Lebanon, 28,000 in Jordan, 10,000 in Iraq, 8,000 in Syria, 5,500 in Turkey, 5,000 in Egypt and 2,000 in Iran itself. If we add some 10,000 in Libya, which is already in North Africa, but which is quite nearby, then we will have a total of 1.85 million. If we add the many undocumented, we can easily have two million Filipinos in the region.

We commend the president for his pro-active stance in making immediate decisions to, among others, send diplomats to execute the repatriation plan, but we express reservation on the sending of one battalion of army combatants and another battalion of marines, purportedly to bring home those two million OFWs. Such deployment of soldiers may unduly exacerbate tensions, and may be interpreted unwittingly as an act of aggression. The war of words between Washington and Tehran are problematic enough, given the character of President Trump, and the adversarial, antagonistic and provocative declarations of Iranian leaders.

The task of repatriating so many people, within too narrow a time, and under imminent risks of being caught in the crossfire of a shooting war is, to say the very least, a nightmare for our country and government. We don’t have enough logistics to execute a massive evacuation plan under precarious conditions. Even if we bring home only 10% of two million, where shall we employ 200,000 returning OFWs? We will have a socio-economic crisis. The government doesn’t have the resources to manage their process of reintegration.

The statement of the DOLE secretary about finding another labor market for our migrant workers is just a political assurance to assuage the anxieties and worries confronting OFWs and their families. It is too late to negotiate bilateral labor agreements with Japan, Canada, or some European countries. The need is both immediate and massive. I am not a pessimist but such a promise would end up building up high expectations. And since, it cannot be translated into immediate placement of dislocated migrant workers, the same would just fuel disillusionment among the poor OFWs.

There is a need really to reflect deeper and think outside the box, to find long-term solutions to this fundamental problems of lack of job opportunities at home. Government should be able to find viable and attractive alternatives to outward labor migration. We cannot keep on firefighting, nor applying band-aid solutions to such a huge problem besetting our country and people.


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