MANILA (Reuters) - More than 2,200 Filipinos are ready to take up President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to repatriate workers from Kuwait due to reports of abuse, the Philippine labour minister said on Sunday.
Duterte asked Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific on Friday to provide flights for Filipinos who want to leave Kuwait, after a the body of a Filipino worker was found in a freezer of an abandoned apartment.
“We have been informed that as of Friday there were 2,200-plus Filipinos who are willing to go home,” Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III told Reuters, adding that some of them had overstayed their visas and applied for an amnesty.
The airlines have arranged free charter flights, and Bello said almost 500 Filipino workers were due to arrive soon.
The Philippines suspended sending workers to Kuwait in January after reports that abuse by employers had driven several to suicide. Duterte said on Friday that that suspension would remain indefinitely.
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah expressed “surprise and sorrow” at Duterte’s remarks in January, saying that legal proceedings had been taken in the cases of the four suicide cases mentioned by the president.
More than 250,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, most as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The government would help repatriated workers look for jobs, Bello said.
“We are into a re-integration programme, we have a programme in place for them,” he told the ANC news channel. “They will be given a livelihood.”
“We are now in the process of looking for alternative markets. One of them is China and even Russia,” he said, without elaborating.
Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Robin Pomeroy