Body of Filipina worker murdered in Kuwait returns home

Jessica (centre), sister of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of a wooden casket containing her sister's body shortly after its arrival at the international airport in Manila on Feb 16, 2
Jessica (centre), sister of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of a wooden casket containing her sister's body shortly after its arrival at the international airport in Manila on Feb 16, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The body of a Philippines maid found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait arrived home to a tearful welcome on Friday (Feb 16), just days after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte barred his nationals from working in the Gulf state.

Joanna Demafelis, 29, was found earlier this month after her employers, a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife, disappeared in 2016.

Her death triggered a diplomatic row between Kuwait and Manila, which announced a "total ban" on new employment for Filipinos in the oil-rich country and flew home hundreds of others, a move condemned in the Middle East.

The victim's wailing sister threw herself at her sibling's coffin after it was unloaded at Manila airport on Friday, while her stunned brother Joejet Demafelis tried to comfort her.

"This is a huge loss for us. Her dream, she told my mother, is that she was leaving only because she wanted to help our parents and our youngest sibling," the brother told reporters at the cargo terminal.

"My parents can't accept this. Every so often, they start weeping," he added.

"I hope they can find those who killed my sister".

Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids.

Domestic workers in the country are not covered by ordinary labour legislation, and accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse and exploitation in the Middle East have long circulated.

A fiery Duterte lashed out at Kuwait after Demafelis' death, alleging that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours each day and feed them scraps.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Friday the Kuwaiti ambassador had assured him his government was "outraged" over the killing and determined to find those responsible.

Cayetano said while the death was tragic it would be a "rallying point" for governments to work harder to protect Filipinos overseas, while conceding that Philippine-Kuwaiti relations were going through a "very rocky period".

He said only about three to five percent of Filipino labourers in Kuwait were having problems but acknowledged the government needed to do more.

His department said Monday authorities were repatriating 10,000 Filipinos who had overstayed their visas in Kuwait, with more than 700 flown home already under an amnesty programme announced recently by the Kuwaiti government.

Some 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy.