Hundreds of Filipino domestic staff in Kuwait have fled their employer to the Philippines embassy after President Rodrigo Duterte offered to fly them home, according to reports.
On Monday, the Philippines enacted a total ban on its citizens coming to Kuwait for work, three days after Duterte held up pictures of the body of a maid found dead in a Kuwaiti apartment.
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The Philippine premier, who in January highlighted the suicides of four women that were abused in Kuwait, warned of “drastic measures” to prevent further loss of life and called on airlines to fly home “those who want to be repatriated, with or without money”.
Kuwait’s foreign minister criticised the president’s remarks on Tuesday and said the country was in contact with the Philippines to address concerns over workers’ conditions and abuse.
“Escalation does not serve the ties between Kuwait and the Philippines,” Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-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.”
Local reports in Kuwait suggested the number of runaway Filipino housemaids had swelled since Duterte’s promise of free flights home.
Kuwait Times cited an official as stating the Philippine embassy’s shelter in Salam normally receives five-to-10 runaways a day but on Sunday took in 92, Monday 111 and had already received 82 by 2:00pm on Tuesday.
“If the trend persists, we may not be able to accommodate them all here in the shelter,” labour attaché Alex Padaen told the publication. “We have requested Manila for another shelter to house runaway domestic helpers heeding the call of the president.”
He called on workers to remain calm amid confusion regarding how the work ban was being applied.
“Domestic helpers have to understand that the president is not calling them all to return home – only if they are not treated well.”
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