Ban on work in Kuwait permanent: Duterte

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said the temporary ban on Filipinos going to work in Kuwait is now permanent, intensifying a diplomatic standoff over the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf nation.

Mr Duterte in February imposed a prohibition on workers heading to Kuwait following the murder there of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer.

The crisis deepened after Kuwaiti authorities last week ordered Manila's envoy to leave the country over videos of Philippine embassy staff helping workers in Kuwait flee allegedly abusive employers.

The two countries had been negotiating a labour deal that Philippine officials said could result in the lifting of the ban but the escalation in tensions has put the deal in doubt.

"The ban stays permanently. There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more," Mr Duterte told reporters.

There was no immediate response from Kuwait, where around 262,000 Filipinos are employed - nearly 60 per cent of them as maids, according to the Philippines' foreign department.

Last week, the Philippines apologised over the rescue videos but Kuwaiti officials said they were expelling Manila's ambassador and recalling their own envoy from the South-east Asian nation.

Kuwait also detained four Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and issued arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel.

Mr Duterte yesterday described the treatment of workers in Kuwait as a "calamity". He said he would bring home Filipino maids who suffered abuse. appealing to those who wanted to stay in the oil-rich state.

"I would like to address to their patriotism: Come home. No matter how poor we are, we will survive. The economy is doing good and we are short of our workers," he said.

About 10 million Filipinos work abroad, seeking high-paying jobs they are unable to find at home, and their remittances are a major pillar of the Philippine economy.

Manila has for decades hailed overseas workers as heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.

Mr Duterte lashed out at Kuwait in February, alleging that Arab employers routinely rape working Filipinas, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.

Mr Duterte said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing. Describing China as a "true friend", he said he would use Chinese aid to fund the workers' repatriation.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'Ban on work in Kuwait permanent: Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe