Officials calm fears of undocumented Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia

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A Philippine social welfare official has allayed the fears of remaining undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that they could be detained by Saudi authorities during her visit to their makeshift shelter just meters away from the Philippine Consulate.

Parsiya Hashim Taradji, a Department of Social Welfare and Development undersecretary, told campers that she and accompanying officials from her country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and the consulate would assess their situation and find out how the government could help them.

Taradji advised campers to stick to their good behavior, discipline and support one another to avoid police attention.

According to her, campers should be appreciative of the Saudi government for tolerating their stay in the camps without arresting or forcibly dispersing them.

A form was distributed to the campers to obtain their basic profile, their present situation and their plans back home so they could be assisted and reintegrated appropriately, Taradji said.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant Renato Villa of the Foreign Affairs Department informed campers that the delay of their repatriation would now be addressed with the opening of the new detention processing facility located at al-Shumaisy, about an hour’s drive from Jeddah.

He explained that the facility has 120 workstations where the biometrics of the deportees will be taken and their documents processed, adding that the detention facility is air-conditioned, has adequate food provisions and campers are allowed to take their personal belongings with them.

Villa said immigration authorities assured the consulate that the deportation of the undocumented Filipinos who are found to have no pending criminal cases or traffic violations would be expedited.

The campers’ decision to leave the camp and go to the deportation processing center to expedite their exit would be done on a voluntary basis, he said.

Consul General Uriel Noran Garibay said most of the campers conveyed their intention to take advantage of the consulate’s assistance to transfer them to the new facility. The first batch will be transported to the new facility on Sunday, according to Garibay.

During a visit to the new facility, Saudi officials handed over to Garibay the keys to the furnished office space that will be occupied by the consulate officers in the center’s administration area.

The office space includes two office rooms, pantry, toilet and bath.

Garibay said they were informed that the consulate will not pay rent and says that all Saudi immigration officers need is the cooperation of the consulate officials so that operations will run smoothly.

The new facility was opened on Nov. 4, the first day of the crackdown following the end of the grace period for illegal workers to correct their status.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Nov. 10, 2013.