Repatriation of Filipino “bridge people” in Saudi Arabia underway, says DFA

September 11, 2009 11:04 am 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, Sept. 11 —Arrangements for the repatriation of some 170 undocumented Filipino “bridge people” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia are underway, with their exit permits now being processed, according to Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The Filipinos are known as “bridge people” because they live under the city’s oft-traversed Khandara bridge, forming a community of at least 50 at any one time.

Quoting a report from Philippine Consul-General Ezzedin Tago, Conejos said that the “bridge people” are now in a Saudi deportation center and will be moved back home to the Philippines as soon as their exits are processed.

While the situation of the so-called bridge people appears pitiful, Conejos noted that the problem “has been a recurring issue” that happens around the time of the Ramadan — when Saudi Arabia tends to be humanitarian and overlook the situation. Thousands of Filipino Muslims join the annual haj to Mecca.

According to Conejos, many of those under the bridge — staying from between a month or two — “ride” through the coattails of the haj-Ramadan season, hoping to evade facing the “regular season’s” sterner laws for overstaying and the expenses involved with being deported as an illegal alien.

Little do these “bridge people” know that the costs of repatriation are just as exorbitant, he added. Tickets are not that expensive, according to Conejos, but deployment is burdensome because exit clearances are granted only by their employers.

But employers would issue clearances only if a runaway worker will have been fully compensated, and this is a Filipino worker’s choke point, explained Conejos.

Other expenses for repatriation such as immigration penalties are underwritten by the DFA.

As this developed, DFA Secretary Alberto G. Romulo today confirmed that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo flies anew to Saudi Arabia on the last week of this month on a direct special invitation of the King of Saudi Arabia.

President Arroyo goes to Riyadh and Jeddah after giving a speech in London on how she positively steered the Philippine economy amid the global financial crunch. From Saudi Arabia, she proceeds to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Romulo said the trips are part of the government’s people-to-people approach to foreign diplomacy, which eventually results in multi-million-dollar investments in the Philippines and thus millions of jobs a year. “As you know, PGMA is one President whose foreign trips are productive… there is proof in the pudding.”

As for the 300 Filipino workers stranded in the Indian island resort of Maldives, Conejos said that partial repatriation of 60 of them is also underway. (PNA)

scs/GJB

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