Human trafficking

Philippine government warns of trafficking rings in Dubai illegally transporting Filipino workers to Iraq

  • Trafficking syndicates lure victims by offering to pay the cost of their travel to the United Arab Emirates, where they are told that high-paying jobs await
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 7:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 10:49pm

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement warning against human trafficking rings operating in Dubai and illegally taking Filipino workers to Iraq.

The alert came after the Philippine embassy in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad rescued two more Filipinos from the southern province of Basra with the help of a local anti-trafficking group.

The Philippine government had previously reported a surge in the number of workers being trafficked into Iraq from Dubai. In August, the Philippine embassy in Baghdad took custody of nine Filipino women, who had been illegally brought into the country from the United Arab Emirates through the Kurdistan Region.

The Philippine News Agency reported that the women were sexually harassed while en route to Baghdad and Basra, an Iraqi port city between Kuwait and Iran.

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According to the latest official statement, released last Thursday, trafficking syndicates have lured victims by offering to pay the cost of their travel to Dubai, where they are told that high-paying jobs await them.

“The victims enter Dubai using tourist visas and are then made to work without pay supposedly as part of their ‘training’,” said the Philippine government.

Once their visas are about to expire, the workers are pressured into accepting jobs in Iraq or told to pay about US$3,000, which the traffickers claim are their deployment costs.

Those who take the job offers are often trafficked through Arbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and then smuggled to Baghdad or Basra.

“The embassy reminds Filipinos that a deployment ban remains in effect over Iraq,” the official statement read. It also warned that Filipinos who enter Iraq without proper visas may face imprisonment and hefty penalties if caught.

There are about 3,000 Filipinos in Iraq, according to official statistics.

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Archana Kotecha, Asia director and head of the legal department at non-profit organisation Liberty Asia, welcomed the Philippine government’s warning notice. “We have heard about this for a little while, of workers being taken illegally to Iraq, Syria and also Turkey. It’s good that the government issued a warning. We welcome greater scrutiny and perhaps a crackdown on the institutions and individuals who are enabling this to happen,” she said.

Philippine officials from the consulate in Hong Kong have previously warned about migrant workers being illegally recruited in the territory and offered bogus jobs in countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia. Many of them paid high fees and ended up being stranded abroad.

Meanwhile, in the UAE, an amnesty programme that gives undocumented workers the chance to rectify their visa situation or return home without penalty is expected to end on Saturday.

According to the Khaleej Times, about 4,000 Filipinos who had overstayed their visas have taken advantage of the programme to remain in the country, either to look for work or because they had already secured jobs.

The Philippines’ government said it had paid for more than 2,600 of its nationals to be repatriated from the UAE under the programme since August.

“The Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate general in Dubai reminded undocumented Filipinos there they only have until 1 December to apply for amnesty,” it said in a statement.

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Some of the largest overseas Filipino communities in the world are in the Middle East, despite many countries in the region having been criticised for their treatment of migrants.

The UAE signed a memorandum of understanding with The Philippines in September last year, which included steps to enhance labour cooperation and recruitment transparency between the two countries.

Last week, a 22-year-old Filipino working in the UAE fell to her death from the third floor of a building in Ajman. In an official statement, the Philippine government said it was closely collaborating with the Ajman authorities in the investigation and coordinating the repatriation of her remains.