January 24, 2018 / 9:47 AM / a month ago

Duterte demands dignity for Filipinos in threat to withdraw workers from Kuwait

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned on Wednesday he may impose a permanent ban on sending workers to Kuwait and withdraw his countrymen working there if another Filipino domestic helper is raped and dies.

The comments were the second time in less than a week that Duterte expressed anger about alleged abuse in Kuwait, where he said low-paid Filipinos were made to endure rape and starvation.

He asked the governments of Kuwait and other Middle East countries, where more than a million Filipinos work, to take steps to end the abuse and “to treat my countrymen as human beings with dignity”.

“I hope I am not committing a diplomatic faux pas. But one more incident ... I‘m going to ban,” he said in a speech before leaving for a regional summit in India.

“And I‘m sorry, the Filipinos there, you can all go home,” he said. “If you leave, they will also be having a hell of a time adjusting to that.”

On Friday, the labour ministry suspended deployment of workers to Kuwait, a day after Duterte said abuse had driven several domestic helpers to suicide.

Kuwait initially expressed surprise and said it was in touch with Manila to try to resolve the issue.

More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most of them as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Remittances by overseas Filipinos amount to more than $2 billion a month, keeping domestic demand robust in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Duterte said Kuwait was an ally, but abuse should not be tolerated.

“I hope that you’d listen to me,” he said. “We may need your help, but we will not do it at the expense of the dignity of the Filipino.”

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez

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