Migrant worker group camps out at DFA

April 29, 2013 11:42 pm 

MANILA, April 29 -– Some members of a migrant worker group have set up camps outside the Department of Foreign Affairs to protest what they call the Philippine government’s inability to bring home hundreds of illegal Filipino workers currently stranded in Saudi Arabia.

More than a dozen protesters from Migrante group have set up camps Monday morning outside the main gate of the DFA, blocking the exit and entry of employees and guests.

Migrante chairman Garry Martinez, who said they will hold the “solidarity campout” until Tuesday afternoon, demanded the “free, immediate and mass repatriation” of the workers, of which more than 1,000 are camping outside the premises of the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah.

Fearing arrests by Saudi authorities due to lack of legal documents, the Filipinos – most of whom have ran away from their employers or whose permits to stay have long expired – have set up camps outside the consulate.

They were offered shelters by the DFA but majority refused to move in to the facilities provided them.

As of Monday, only 31 of the Filipino campers have accepted the DFA’s offer to stay at one of the shelters inside the consulate.

Two more shelters are being prepared for the campers – a housing facility leased from a Saudi-based Syrian businessman and a school gymnasium.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario met with the protesters at the gate of the DFA and invited them to a dialogue Tuesday morning to hear their side on how the government could hasten the repatriation of the Filipinos in Jeddah.

“It’s not true we’re not addressing your concerns,” Del Rosario told Migrante leaders. “We need to work together, get together.”

Departure procedures for illegal workers are tedious as fines would have to be paid and exit documents must be secured before they are granted permission by Saudi authorities to leave Kingdom.

The DFA said the government is doing its best to ease their plight and to have them repatriated to the Philippines at once.

“You have to differentiate your issues. We’re not the Saudi government. We’re trying to help you,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario invited Migrante to send five representatives to meet with him and discuss how to address the problem of the campers and those who would like to be repatriated from Jeddah.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the protesters will not be dispersed but appealed to them not to block the main gate so as not to disrupt the department’s operations.

“We have appealed that they would allow us to use the gate and not block it so that we can continue on with our work and transact business with foreign government representatives here in Manila,” Hernandez said.

By late afternoon, the protesters were down to less than 10 but the group said at least 100 more will join them tonight. (PNA)

HBC/MDC/UTB

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