By William B Depasupil/Manila Times
Another 42,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are coming home next month, even as the government struggles to speed up coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) testing of earlier arrivals, many of whom have been languishing in quarantine facilities.
Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd has claimed the sheer number of arriving OFWs poses a major problem.
He said 319,316 migrant workers had been displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic although only 62,000 of them wanted to be repatriated.
Most of the 62,000 OFWs are in Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and elsewhere, where travel is restricted by lockdowns.
“That is, now, what we’re trying to figure out. How we can ship them out from their host countries,” Bello said in a virtual press briefing.
At present, only 4,090 Covid-free OFWs are waiting to be brought to their hometowns.
Bello admitted that his department failed to meet the three-day deadline of President Rodrigo Duterte to send home the 24,000 workers, who were in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.
Only 19,010 have been sent home, but Bello assured the remaining 4,990 OFWs that they would be sent home during the week in order that the quarantine facilities could be prepared for the next batch.
During a House of Representatives hearing, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said the deployment of OFWs from January to April was 35% lower than the deployment during the same period last year because of the pandemic.
In his presentation at a hearing of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said deployment was down to 476,289 OFWs from 731,551 last year.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration will continue to impose international travel restrictions, even with the lifting of modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said only Filipinos, their foreign spouses and children, accredited foreign government and international organisation officials, and foreign airline crew could enter the Philippines. Meanwhile, only foreigners, permanent residents and student visa holders abroad, and OFWs can leave the country.
According to Immigration Acting Port Operations Head Grifton Medina, international flights remained limited since the start of the lockdown in mid-March.
He said immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport currently serve an average of only 20-30 flights a day, a third of which are special flights that ferry medical supplies and other kinds of cargo into the country.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church said it would give financial assistance to OFWs displaced by the Covid pandemic.
Fr Restituto Ogsimer, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said the commission was considering providing cash aid to land and sea-based workers starting next month.
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