Filthy camps, food sharing and money from PHL: How OFWs survive Saudi oil crisis
Some OFWs in dire straits in Saudi Arabia have started receiving money from their families in the Philippines -- a reversal of fortune resulting from companies trimming down their workforces due to the oil crisis.
Elvira Abrio said she and wives of other OFWs have began sending money to Saudi Arabia to be able to send their now-jobless husbands home.
"Nahihirapan ako na may mga anak ako na nag-aaral," Abrio said Friday during a press briefing arranged by pro-migrants group Migrante in Quezon City. "Binenta ko po 'yung isa kong gamit para may ipadala ko lang po siya."
She said she has sent her husband Joel P20,000 to buy a plane ticket home, as his two-year contract as a mechanic in a contracting company in Al-Khobar has expired.
However, Joel was unable to obtain an exit visa, which Abrio said could be related to his former employer's cost-cutting measures.
"Hindi nga po maintindihan. Sabi lubog na 'yung kumpanya kaya wala silang mai-produce na exit visa. Nagpadala po ako sa kanya ng P20,000. Nanghingi po siya sa 'kin ng pambili niya ng ticket. 'Yung exit visa naman 'yung problema," Abrio, a supermarket vendor, said.
"Ngayon, sa paglalakad namin ng ilang buwan na, pahinto-hinto na 'ko sa pagtitinda. Hanggang sa ngayon, wala na talaga akong pantinda," she added.
Some OFWs said the situation there has gotten worse that they have no proper accommodation anymore, staying instead in filthy camps with no electricity.
"Dun sa palikuran nila, talaga pong napakarumi na," said Nathan Manlapaz, an OFW who was able to flee Saudi Arabia just as when the situation there was moving from bad to worse. "Wala silang kuryente. Siguro po, bago kami umalis wala pa rin silang kuryente."
He said some OFWs were forced to renew their contracts despite delayed salaries and delayed renewal of their iqamas or work permits, which could make them prone to arrest by Saudi immigration authorities.
"Yung ibang tauhan po, napilitan na mag-extend na lang po ng contract dahil pinangakuan na itataas ang sweldo pero 'yung sweldo naman po na 'yun e 'di naman po nila natatanggap agad-agad," Manlapaz said.
Thea Reyes, wife of an OFW, said workers had to choose among staying in a camp, voluntarily leaving it, or extending their contracts.
"Yung iba, 'yung ginagawa dahil natatakot na baka mawala, pumipirma sila ng isang papel na in Arabic 'yun, so sasabihin na lang ng kumpanya, o ito yung pipirmahan mo, uuwi ka na or babalik ka sa trabaho," she said in the same briefing.
Johnny Lozarita, another former OFW in Saudi Arabia, said workers had to share meager food allowances with others as some recruitment agencies failed to give workers their own allowances.
"Nakakain naman ibang kasamaan namin. Pero 'yung iba, wala talaga. Bale nagshare-share na lang po kami para makabigay ng pagkain din sa ibang kasamahan namin." Lozarita said.
Migrante rights and welfare coordinator Laorence Castillo said with these developments, the prospect of a mass repatriation of affected OFWs is being floated around in meetings between government representatives and families of the OFWs.
"Upon hearing dun sa mga prinesent na situationer nung mga pamilya, they raised the idea of ano na pushing for or gearing for mass repatriation kasi hindi na uubra na iasa sa mga companies ang pagpapauwi sa kanila dahil may recognition na nga na bankrupt na at wala na talagang capacity yung ibang companies na pauwiin pa ang mga OFW," he said.
However, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said the situation in Saudi Arabia still doesn't warrant for an emergency mass repatriation. "Nobody in DFA shares the opinion that there should be mass repatriation," he told GMA News Online via text.
The Department of Labor and Employment has already sent a team to Saudi Arabia to assess the situation of Filipino workers there. -- KBK, GMA News