Some 1,500 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are currently stranded in Lebanon, waiting to be repatriated but unable to raise the $200 required by Beirut for being unregistered workers.
Recruitment consultant Manny Geslani said there are as many as 50,000 undocumented OFWs in Lebanon “brought in by illegal-recruitment syndicates from 2006 to 2019, escaping the deployment ban imposed by the Department of Labor and Employment [DOLE] and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration [POEA] in the wake of the Israel-Lebanon War from 2006 to 2007.”
Demand, however, for Filipina maids was so high in Lebanon, that planeloads of OFWs were reportedly brought in monthly leading to an undisclosed number of illegal-maids working in Lebanon, he added.
On the other hand, Geslani said, there are some 34,000 properly documented OFW’s in Lebanon.
He said the exodus of OFW’s out of Beirut was brought about by the economic crisis in the country, which is now “heading toward bankruptcy.” “The Lebanese pound has lost its value more than 60 percent and the crisis has led to daily demonstrations in major cities of Lebanon,” Geslani said.
“The more than 1,500 Filipina domestic workers are still waiting for the go-signal to board planes out of Beirut, while the Philippines government negotiates for their departure,” he said.
He added that recently, the Honorary Consul-General of Lebanon to the Philippines, Joseph Assad, had a dialogue with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr., to discuss what measures can be done to bring home the OFWs.
“Consul Assad has prepared a letter addressed to Lebanon President Michel Aoun to grant amnesty for those 1,500 OFWs on their immigration penalties through his embassy in Tokyo.”
The 1,500 domestic workers have all signed up for repatriation with the Philippine Embassy but they are being fined $200 for working illegally in Lebanon, for several years.
The maids have to pay the $200 fine so that they can be issued exit visas. Although the Philippine Embassy has the funds to fly them out for their plane tickets, Geslani said the sheer number of maids waiting for repatriation has delayed the process “while the embassy has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA] in Manila to negotiate for an amnesty from the Lebanese government,” according to Geslani.
Meanwhile the 1,500 maids are cooling their heels in Beirut by working part-time, or staying with friends, while waiting for their exit visas. More OFWs are expected to take advantage of the free repatriation offered by the DFA in the coming months as the political situation deteriorates in Lebanon.
Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with the local currency plummeting against the US dollar, losing more than 60 percent of its value over the last weeks while sources of foreign currency have dried up.
Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers in the country, which relies heavily on import of basic goods, Geslani said.
In this connection, the DFA has started it’s Iraq repatriation with the arrival of 13 Filipinos on Wednesday afternoon. The DFA, through the Philippine Embassy in Iraq, is bringing home two groups coming from Baghdad and Erbil.
The first group from Baghdad, which comprises seven adults and two minors, was supposed to arrive on Wednesday, but was held by Iraqi immigration officials at the Baghdad International Airport for baseless allegations of visa fraud, the DFA said in a news statement.
The other four adults coming from Erbil, a city located north of Baghdad, form the second group. Both groups will be transiting Doha, Qatar, before arriving in Manila.
Locsin praised the embassy staff in Libya, who sent off the OFW home. “DFA [is] the best. Not only do we not leave our kind behind but we seek them out to help them. Fast and no fuss, all in a sleepless week’s time,” he said in his official Twitter account.
The repatriates comprise the first batch of Filipinos coming home after the government ordered mandatory repatriation, Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said.
Alert Level 4, or mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq, was raised on January 8, 2020, due to growing security threats in the Middle East.
The DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs coordinates the repatriation of distressed Filipinos abroad.
“More Filipinos from affected areas are expected to come home in the coming weeks,” Arriola added.