MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines on Monday (Feb 12) expanded a ban on its citizens working in Kuwait after President Rodrigo Duterte angrily lashed out at the Gulf state over reports of Filipino workers suffering abuse and exploitation.
Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.
But Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello on Monday announced a "total ban" on new employment in the country, including Filipinos who had already obtained employment permits but had not yet left for the wealthy oil-producing country.
Authorities have not ruled out revoking the permits of Filipinos currently working in Kuwait or of previous hires returning on new contracts.
"With the advent of the series of reports involving abuses and deaths of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all overseas workers ... is hereby enforced," Bello said, reading an order.
"This order takes effect immediately." The move would affect thousands of workers, labour spokesman Abegail de Vega said.
The fresh move came after Duterte last month barred Filipinos from seeking work in Kuwait, although the ban exempted those who had already secured permission.
Last Friday Duterte hit out at Kuwait as he brandished photos reportedly of a Filipina maid found in a freezer, saying she had been "roasted like a pig".
Duterte has been vocal on the issue of abuse of Filipinos in the Middle East, even threatening a ban on citizens working anywhere in the region.
He also alleged Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours each day and fed them scraps.
"Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?" he had said, addressing Kuwait.
Kuwait's embassy in Manila declined to comment.
Accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse, overwork, rape or dying in suspicious circumstances in the region have long circulated.
The Philippine foreign affairs department said on Monday authorities were repatriating 10,000 overstaying Filipinos from Kuwait, taking advantage of an amnesty programme arranged with the Kuwaiti government.
Officials added they were eyeing China and Russia as "alternative markets" for overseas workers.