Kuwait condemns Duterte’s call to evacuate Filipino workers

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Communications Assistant Secretary Esther Margaux Uson takes a selfie with Filipino workers who arrived from Kuwait at the Manila International Airport on Feb. 13. -- AFP

A TOP Kuwaiti official condemned on Tuesday a call by Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte to evacuate his country’s workers from Kuwait, suggesting he could damage ties between the two countries.

Manila on Monday announced a “total ban” on new employment in Kuwait, including Filipinos who had already obtained employment permits but had not yet left for the Gulf country.

The measure came after Mr. Duterte angrily lashed out at Kuwait over reports of Filipino workers suffering abuse and exploitation. On Friday he brandished photos purporting to show a Filipino maid found in a freezer, saying she had been “roasted like a pig.”

Mr. Duterte also alleged Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours each day and fed them scraps. He asked Kuwait: “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?”

Two planes full of workers arrived in Manila from Kuwait on Monday on flights provided for free by commercial airlines at the President’s request. On Sunday, the Philippine Labor secretary said more than 2,200 Filipinos were ready to take up Mr. Duterte’s offer.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs department said authorities were repatriating 10,000 overstaying Filipinos from Kuwait, taking advantage of an amnesty program arranged with the Kuwaiti government.

For his part, Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah said: “We are surprised and we condemn statements from the Philippine president, especially as we are in contact with the Philippines on a high level to explain the workers’ conditions in Kuwait.”

He was speaking at a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.

“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah said, adding that 170,000 Filipinos “live a decent life in Kuwait … but separate accidents unfortunately happen, and we are providing our Filipino counterparts with the results of the investigations.”

Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented widespread abuses, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and no clear channels for redress. — reports by Reuters and AFP