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Philippines reimposes ban on citizens working in Kuwait after horrific murder

More than 200,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 January, 2020

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A Filipina maid was allegedly sexually abused and killed by her employer, sparking another row between Kuwait and the Philippines.
The Philippines has reimposed a ban on its citizens going to work in Kuwait after a Filipina maid was allegedly killed by her employer, echoing a 2018 row between the two countries.

President Rodrigo Duterte approved the ban on Friday as his government accused the emirate of covering up the gruesome killing of a maid, one of about 240,000 Filipinos working in the Gulf state.

Millions of Filipino citizens go to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get at home. The money they send back accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.

Duterte's government briefly banned Filipinos from working in Kuwait two years ago amid a diplomatic row that began with the discovery of the remains of a murdered Filipina maid in her employers' freezer.

"The result of the [Philippine] re-autopsy... indicates that overseas Filipino worker Jeanelyn Villavende was sexually abused," Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement, referring to the woman at the centre of the new ban.

Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello alleged Thursday that an earlier autopsy in Kuwait had concluded that Villavende died from heart failure arising from physical injuries.

The labour department said in a separate statement that the ban covers all Filipinos going to work in Kuwait, though skilled workers and professionals with un-expired contracts are exempted.

Workers already on the job in Kuwait are allowed to finish their contracts. 

Panelo said the ban would only be lifted once Kuwait agrees to fully implement the terms of an agreement signed after the 2018 row that offered security guarantees for Filipino workers.

At the height of the earlier ban Duterte alleged that Kuwaiti employers routinely raped Filipina workers, forced them to work long hours and fed them scraps.

His government then ordered its embassy staff in Kuwait to help Filipina maids flee allegedly abusive bosses, provoking the emirate to expel the Filipino ambassador.

Tensions later died down and the ban was lifted three months later after the two governments thrashed out the labour agreement and Duterte made a public apology to the Kuwaiti government.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf state to face allegations of routine sexual abuse against domestic workers.

Bangladesh last month shuttered more than 150 recruiting agencies hiring people to work in Saudi Arabia after a string of returnees alleged facing sexual abuse, torture and even sexual slavery in the kingdom.

Similar abuse has also been reported in the United Arab Emirates, which Human Rights Watch slammed in 2014 for its rampant abuse of domestic workers.

There are around 750,000 domestic workers in the UAE, making up nearly 20 percent of the expatriate workforce, according to official statistics.

In December, the Philippine embassy in Lebanon said more than 1,000 Filipinos, mostly women and their children, had registered for free repatriation.

The embassy linked the repatriation drive to Lebanon's free-falling economy amid protests, but cases of abuse against an estimated quarter of a million domestic workers in the country are common.

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