By: Ernie Reyes, InterAksyon.com
January 8, 2016 1:26 PM
MANILA, Philippines — Migrant workers’ rights advocates urged government on Friday to immediately draw up a plan to protect an estimated 5,000 Filipinos in danger from worsening bombings and artillery exchanges along the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of countries battling Shi’ite Houthi rebels who have taken over most of Yemen and driven out the government.
Organizations led by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said the government should send a team from the Department of Foreign Affairs to assess the situation in Saudi Arabia’s Narjan and consult civil society groups knowledgeable about the area.
“I urge the DAFA to send a team from the home office to assess the situation jointly with the team of the Philippine consulate. This will hasten the process of fund releases so that a proper evacuation site can be identified for our workers’ peace of mind,” Susan Ople, executive director of the Ople Center, said at a press conference in Manila.
She was joined by John Bertiz, who owns a recruitment agency; Jun Aguilar, head of the Filipino Migrant Workers Group; Lito Soriano, owner of LBS Recruitment Solutions Inc.; and Luther Caldereon, who is involved with giving Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars.
Ople said Filipino workers in Narjan are reporting anywhere from 15 to 80 bomb explosions in the area daily.
“The workers that I have spoken to have no idea where the bombs are coming from, or (where they) are headed to. All they said was that the risks are now higher because explosions can be felt and heard even at night,” Ople said.
“Dati, tuwing araw, lang ang pambobomba, ngayon pati gabi na, nayayanig ang lugar na kanilang tinutulugan (It used to be the bombings were only during the day but now, even at night, their sleeping quarters are rocked by explosions),” she said.
Ople pointed out that there is confusion among the affected Filipinos about where they should seek shelter when areas near where they work or live are targeted.
She said four workers have already sought the help of the Ople Center for repatriation, not only because of the worsening situation but also because of violations of their work contracts. The requests have been referred to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
“According to the workers, their employers have agreed to let them go provided they are paid back all the recruitment costs,” Ople said.
Ban deployment in Narjan
Ople also urged the government to declare Narjan a no-deployment zone for new hires and asked the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to direct its welfare officers to conduct weekly visits to OFWs in Narjan.
“OWWA has sufficient funds to do this, and most, if not all, of the workers in Narjan, are active OWWA members,” Ople said.
She said apprehension in Narjan has grown after Saudi Arabia tightened security after it broke off diplomatic ties with Iran following its execution of renowned Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The ties were severed after an Iranian mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran during a protest against Nimr’s execution.
“It is best for experts in the DFA and our labor representatives from DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) to come up with their own joint assessment regarding the security situation in Narjan. What is important is for us to stop sending workers there in the meantime, especially household service workers who may not even know what’s going on in that border town,” Ople stressed.