Dreams Turned Nightmare: Is There Still Hope for Stranded OFWs in Jeddah?

They went to Saudi Arabia with dreams of giving a better life to their families. But when they arrived in the kingdom their dreams turned into a nightmare. They had to escape abusive employers. And when they did they were left in a limbo, with no jobs, no money, and no means to go back home.

Vol. VIII, No. 7, March 16-29, 2008

They have not received their salaries for several months, some for a year or two, and the longest for 18 years. They have lived under a bridge, then in tents within the Philippine Consulate’s premises. Some of them have been duped by fixers, with promises of helping them return to the Philippines through the backdoor. They have been transported to different deportation facilities with hands and feet cuffed. They have been jam-packed in small cells, brawling with other stranded migrant workers for food to survive another day. They fear that they will be returned to their abusive employers whom they have already escaped from. Some of them have lost contact with their loved ones in the Philippines, because they do not have the money to do so or because the Saudi police have confiscated their mobile phones.

Only 18 women have been reportedly deported to the Philippines in February, while an estimated 250 OFWs have been stranded in Jeddah alone.

Is there still hope for the stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Jeddah to finally be reunited with their families?

Inhumane conditions

After living under the Al Khandara Bridge in Jeddah, where stranded migrant workers were desperately waiting for the Immigration police to arrest and deport them, the stranded OFWs have been transferred to the Philippine Consulate grounds. But several of them still stayed in tents because the Consulate could no longer accommodate their increasing number.

On Feb. 10, Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) chairperson Andrew Ociones reported that 24 male OFWs who signed Consul General Ezzedin Tago’s offer to go through the “legal deportation process” were endorsed by the Consul to the Jawassat or the Immigration Police. They were picked up at the Consulate and transferred to the deportation facility in Riyadh with feet and hands cuffed.

Ociones said that initially, only two of the about 88 OFWs living under the bridge accepted the offer. It rose to 24 after Tago phoned those working in part time jobs and offered them the option of “legal deportation process.”

A few days after the transfer of the 24 OFWs to Riyadh, Ociones received a barrage of text messages and missed callsfrom the OFWs who were supposedly under “due” process. Worried, Ociones returned their call to check on their situation. One OFW described it as kasuklam-suklam (terribly disgusting).

“Depressed na kaming lahat dito, sir. Walang mahigaan dito. Hindi kami makalakad sa sobrang siksikan. Tayo-upo lang kami. Gitgitan pa ang pag-upo. Nasa eskinita na kami, sir. Ako andito na ako sa may rehas, tabi ng pinto. Hindi pa kami kumakain mula kanina” (We are all depressed here, sir. We do not have anything to lie on. We cannot move around because it is so crowded. We can merely stand up and sit down in place. We bump into each other whenever we attempt to sit down. We are already cramped in a small space. I am staying near the bars of the prison cell near the door. We haven’t eaten yet.)

“Kasuklam-suklam ang kalagayan namin dito, sir. Please tulungan n’yo kami na maiparating sa lahat kung ano ang kalagayan namin dito. ‘Yung isang kasamahan namin hinang-hina na… si Noel… Farrales. Sa sobrang init, saka pagod” (Our condition here is terribly disgusting, sir. Please help us inform the public about our conditions here. One of our companions is already weak..he is Noel… Farrales… because of the heat and weariness. )OFW James Malasig told Ociones, noting that there are more than a hundred of them in an eight-by-fifteen-meter room.

“Ano ba naman itong ginawa nila sa amin, sir. Hindi ito ang sinabi nila sa amin nong pinapamirma nila kami ng ‘due process…Hindi namin alam kung bakit balik kami uli sa simula. Sinisingil kami para daw sa litrato e anong ibibigay namin, wala na kaming pera. Tumawag ako kay Andam (tauhan ng Consulate sa Jeddah) nagulat din sya bakit kami andito. Ang sabi sa amin, bukas pa daw kami pupuntahan… Hindi man lang ba kami pwedeng silipin maski sandali lang. Sabi nya, bukas na lang daw…” (I could not understand what they are doing to us, sir. We were not told about this when they asked us to sign the papers agreeing to undergo “due process.” We do not know why it seems that we are back to where we started. They are asking us for money for our pictures but we do not have any money. I called up Andam from the Philippine consulate in Jeddah and he said he was also surprised to know why we are here. He said he can only visit us tomorrow. We begged him to visit us even for just a moment. But he said that the earliest he can visit us is tomorrow.)

Most of the stranded OFWs do not want to accept Tago’s proposal for “legal process” for fear that they will be separated from each other, and be sent back to their abusive employers, said Ociones. He said that one of the 24 OFWs who agreed to go through “due process” has since been returned to his employer from whom he had run away from.

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