Big rise in number of runaways noted in 2017

Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes addressing distressed OFWs at a Christmas party held in the consulate general office premises.

DUBAI: There was a five-fold increase in the number of cases handled by the Philippine Embassy and the Consulate General involving runaway household service workers (HSWs) in 2017.

Records at the embassy’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) section showed that as of last count on Dec. 25, some 1,500 distressed HSWs have been flown home; in 2016, the number was just over 300, according to the embassy.

In Dubai, the figure was hovering at around 1,400 to 1,500. “In my first two years here, mga 200 lang 300,” said Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes, who is on his third year’s tour of duty, “now, it’s at 1,400 to 1,500,” referring to repatriated runaways.

“A lot… really a lot,” said the diplomat.

Cortes said that two years ago, their shelter for distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) would have 40 occupants at any given time. “These days, we are over 200. Some will be repatriated then another 10 would come in,” he said.

Asst. Labor Attaché and Officer-in-charge Jay Jasper B. Javines (second from right) with a group of runaway OFWs shortly before their repatriation on Christmas Day.

The situation is the same at the embassy where up to 20 runaway HSWs would be repatriated almost every week in the past months.

Cortes said the increase in the figures could mean “more and more people are probably aware that the consulate is here to assist them.”

The runaway HSWs arrived in the UAE on a visit visa paid for by a recruiter back home who also shouldered plane fare, with some “recruits” passing through Immigration at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) with escorts, according to initial inquiries by the Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has sought assistance from the Philippine Department of Justice to thoroughly investigate what he said was as an apparent connivance between Immigration and human traffickers back home that has been making this activity possible.

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