By Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: In an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Kuwait, the Talha Deportation Center, Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) and the Philippine Embassy shelters sent home 254 Filipinos who were detained for absconding or other criminal offenses and faced deportation. Among the deported Filipino workers were 16 male spa workers who were caught allegedly cross-dressing at some male massage centers in Kuwait.
The deportees were seen off by Philippine Embassy officials at Kuwait International Airport, headed by Charge de Affaires and Vice Consul Charleson Hermosura. All commercial flights from Kuwait remain suspended except for special flights arranged in advance by the government. The group of repatriated Filipinos departed from Kuwait International Airport’s Terminal 4 at 1:30 pm on Wednesday via Kuwait Airways Flight 417, which arrived at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 4 am yesterday.
“This effort is by the Kuwaiti government to help clear Talha in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Kuwait. The 254 people are from various shelters in Kuwait, but mostly from Talha Deportation Center – 151 in total; the rest are from the embassy shelter and PAM. This is a record number when it comes to the number of Filipinos repatriated on one flight from Kuwait,” Hermosura explained. He thanked HH the Amir and the Kuwaiti government for shouldering the cost of repatriation. “In just two days, we managed to process the documents of these repatriated people so we could send them home this afternoon,” he added.
Repatriated housemaid Editha Belotendos, a 58-year-old single woman from Zamboanga, headed home to her family in a wheelchair. “I worked with my employers since 2010. They were good people, but in January 2020, I suffered a mild stroke which paralyzed half my body. I cannot walk and my leg and arm are numb, so of course I cannot work. My employer decided to send me home, and coordinated with the Philippine Embassy after a month of recuperation at the hospital. I am sad to leave my very good employers, but this is life. They have given me enough money to recuperate at home and said if I get better, I can call them so they can issue a visa for me to come back. Hopefully I will be able to recover soon,” she said.
Mayla Payud, 43, a native of Ormoc City, went home without getting justice in a case filed against her employer in February. “I was torn between the fact that I want to get justice, and at the same time I want to go home to my family amidst the coronavirus worries. I finally decided to go back home because they are all leaving (referring to her friends at the embassy shelter). I don’t know when my case will end – it’s really frustrating, but this is it. I am going home without anything,” the sobbing housemaid said.
Payud’s ordeal had gone viral on Facebook in early February, when she posted photos of her bloodied face after she was allegedly hit on the nose with a mobile phone by her male sponsor. The images drew the attention of the Philippine Embassy, which ordered her agency in Kuwait to report the matter to the authorities, and she was eventually rescued. She said the mistreatment started when she asked permission to go home for good.
“I worked for three years in their home. I wanted to go to the Philippines, but my male employer did not allow me to do so until a new housemaid arrived. He said there was a ban on Filipino helpers, so they couldn’t get a new replacement. I told my boss that this is not my problem, so he became furious and beat me black and blue. I was really shocked because I thought he would not do that to me. I saw how he mistreated his son, but I thought he would never lift his hand on me because I am just their housemaid, but I was wrong,” she told Kuwait Times.
Another deportee was Naisa Regio from Quezon province. The 32-year-old stayed with her employer for only three months. “I begged them to send me home, but they sent me instead to my agency and then to the Philippine Embassy. I realized that I would probably die here if I didn’t go home; I passed out several times while working at their home in the past three months, so I told them to send me home as I am no longer capable of working. Thank God I will be home tomorrow,” she said.
Philippine Vice Consul Adrian Baccay said PAM and Talha Deportation Center have “zero” Filipinos now. “We still have a few remaining in the Philippine Embassy shelter – these are people with assistance to nationals unit (ATNU) cases pending in local courts here. As much as we want them to be on this special flight, we cannot send them because some of their cases have travel bans and some cases are almost over and we do not want to jeopardize their long stay in Kuwait since the decision of the court can come anytime,” he said.
In the new standard contract agreement reached between Kuwait and the Philippines, the Philippine Embassy will be prevented from harboring Filipino domestic helpers at its premises. “The problem is we cannot prevent our nationals from seeking help from the embassy if the need arises. This is exactly the reason why we are here, to assist our fellow citizens if they are in trouble,” an embassy official told Kuwait Times on the condition of anonymity when asked about this issue.