Over 100 runaway overseas Filipino workers temporarily stay at the Philippine consulate office in Jeddah to await deportation. Bong ConchaMANILA, Philippines - Runaway and stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) run the risk of being treated like ordinary criminals with the new fingerprinting system taking effect in securing resident permits.
This was the concern of Migrante-Middle East, an alliance of OFW groups, as Saudi’s passport department announced the mandatory fingerprinting for the iqama of all expatriate workers starting last May 10 (Saturday).
"With the implementation of ‘fingerprinting’ in Saudi Arabia, we are worried that all runaway and stranded [OFWs] will now be classified and treated as ordinary criminals as such it is leading to [the] ‘criminalization’ status of undocumented workers at deportation centers and resource centers in the entire Kingdom," said Andrew Ociones, Migrante-Saudi Arabia chairperson.
According to the group, the fingerprinting requirement in the issuance of iqamas in Saudi is not new. Qatar has its Pataqa, only to be issued to a migrant worker after 'fingerprinting' has been done while the United Arab Emirates has its eye-scan mandatory requirement.
Ociones added that Saudi Immigration police have begun undertaking selective raids on the alleged shelters of undocumented and runaway migrant workers in Jeddah and Riyadh.
Last April 19, the group reported the raid of three adjacent buildings in Jeddah where about 100 undocumented Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers including their children were taken into two buses bound to the detention center.
"We are much concerned on our fellow OFWs who have been over staying, undocumented, and ran away from their employer as the finger-printing requirement will be implemented in the entire Kingdom," said Mario Ben, Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan (KGS-Migrante Riyadh chapter) Chairperson.
According to Ben, some big companies in Saudi Arabia employing migrant workers have already introduced the fingerprinting system on all its employees last year.
With the implementation of the new system, Migrante leaders are urging the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah to prepare a pro-active action plan.
"The [Philippine authorities there should] conduct diplomatic talks to explore the possibility of granting amnesty to some undocumented [OFWs]," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator.
Monterona is also asking to extend bilateral agreements to Filipino workers employed in other companies not under its sponsorship as well as those who ran away from abusive employers and took temporary refuge on their relatives and friends’ homes.
"Our officials abroad should not wait time to come where a distress and ran away OFW has been charged, detained and be treated like an ordinary criminal whose only option is to leave his or her abusive and errant employer," Monterona said.
- Mark Joseph Ubalde, GMANews.TV