MANILA, Feb 12: The Philippines Monday expanded a ban on its citizens working in Kuwait after President Rodrigo Duterte angrily lashed out at the Gulf state over reports of Filipino workers suffering abuse and exploitation. Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids.
They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy. But Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello Monday announced a “total ban” on new employment in the country, including Filipinos who had already obtained employment permits but had not yet left for the wealthy oil-producing country. Authorities have not ruled out revoking the permits of Filipinos currently working in Kuwait or of previous hires returning on new contracts.
“With the advent of the series of reports involving abuses and deaths of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, a total ban on deployment of all overseas workers … is hereby enforced,” Bello said, reading an order.
“This order takes effect immediately.” The move would affect thousands of workers, labour spokeswoman Abegail de Vega said. The fresh move came after Duterte last month barred Filipinos from seeking work in Kuwait, although the ban exempted those who had already secured permission. Last Friday Duterte hit out at Kuwait as he brandished photos reportedly of a Filipina maid found in a freezer, saying she had been “roasted like a pig”.
Duterte has been vocal on the issue of abuse of Filipinos in the Middle East, even threatening a ban on citizens working anywhere in the region. He also alleged Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours each day and fed them scraps. “Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?” he had said, addressing Kuwait.
Kuwait’s embassy in Manila declined to comment. Accounts of Filipinos being subjected to abuse, overwork, rape or dying in suspicious circumstances in the region have long circulated. The Philippine foreign affairs department said Monday authorities were repatriating 10,000 overstaying Filipinos from Kuwait, taking advantage of an amnesty programme arranged with the Kuwaiti government. Officials added they were eyeing China and Russia as “alternative markets” for overseas workers.
The total ban has, meanwhile, generated varied reactions from OFWs in Kuwait. One of those who were happy of the total deployment ban was Remy, the neighbour of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, the Filipina household service worker whose body was found inside the freezer. “I fully support the total ban. I don’t encourage Filipinos to come here to work as housemaid. What if they end up with barbaric employers like the employers of Joanna,” stated Remy.
Others were saddened upon reading the news on the social media. “Not all Kuwaitis are bad. My employer has been very good to me. I had cancer and my employer took care of my treatment till I got well. I’ve been receiving my salary continuously and they are all supported me. It should have been case to case basis,” pointed out Terzery who works at a Kuwaiti household.
Meanwhile, Filipino skilled workers or those who are under visa 18 were taken by surprise of the total deployment ban. “Why include us? We have good jobs here. My husband is working here and our two kids are studying here. Skilled workers are okay. Yes, we all know that household service workers are vulnerable to abuses. If we go home now, can they give us a good job? Do they have any concrete plan for all the affected skilled workers?” lamented Mildred Lacson.
Other Filipino organisations and OFW advocates also aired their dismay on the brazen decision of the government. “The skilled workers should have not been included. We enjoy full protection under the Kuwait Labour Law plus there’s already an existing Memorandum of Understanding on Labour Cooperation for skilled workers signed by Kuwait and the Philippines in 2012. Our government should look into this,” appealed Ana Del Mundo, the founder and Vice-Chair of the Philippine Society of Marketing Specialists in Kuwait. “We are dismayed and saddened of this development. We hope Secretary Bello reconsider his decision of including the skilled workers in the total ban though we understand and fully support our government’s stance in protecting all Filipino workers in Kuwait,” stated Dr Chie Umandap, the founder of Ako OFW in Kuwait, an OFW advocacy group.
Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa advised all Filipino nationals who have valid visas and enjoy good working condition to stay put and postpone all vacation plans. “We are advising them not to go home now for they cannot come back because of the total deployment ban. Those who are vacationing now in the Philippines cannot come back for now because of the total ban till further notice,” explained Villa. Along the same line, some companies in Kuwait with a huge number of Filipino employees issued circular asking them to postpone their leave. Some airline companies have also informed their Filipino cabin crew that they will not be included in the roster of flights to Manila until further notice due to the ban.
Meanwhile, the repatriation of undocumented OFWs continues with the second batch composed of 300 repatriates flew to Manila on Tuesday night. There are around 10,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Kuwait based on the records of the Ministry of Interior and the embassy is targeting to repatriate at least 7,000 undocumented OFWs. The Ministry of Interior has already issued more than 2,000 exit clearances to those who applied for amnesty.
A group of Filipino workers returning from Kuwait to their country made shocking statements to the Philippine People’s Television correspondent claiming that they had been subjected to coercive conditions during their stay and work in Kuwait, reports Al-Anba daily.
Although most of these workers left Kuwait for the Philippines, taking advantage of the amnesty issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, many of them used Duterte’s statements to ban travel of workers to Kuwait and to allow them to return to their country at the expense of the state and provide them with financial assistance. In televised statements one of the Filipinas said she worked in Kuwait as a maid for only nine months. “The employer used to hit me and hit my head against the wall and I reached a point where I could not take it anymore.”
“They treated me like an animal and they threw food at me. They would not even call me by my name,” said another Filipina. Yet another Filipina, identified only as Fatima said: “I worked for 5 years in Kuwait, and the result was they put me in jail for two years after accusing me of stealing.” After interviewing a group of workers, the TV correspondent commented saying there are still some 7,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait and added her government plans to return them to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, one of the Philippine senators has asked the Philippine embassy in Kuwait and the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Employment in his country to take responsibility for ensuring the safety of Filipino workers in Kuwait. However, it is largely believed there is no iota of truth in what has been mentioned by the Filipino domestic workers after arriving in their country.
Authorities have identified the employers of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, the Filipina household worker whose body was found in a freezer, as Lebanese Nader Issam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun. Al Arabiya English said in a report published on its website Monday that the Interpol is now looking for the employers of Demafelis. It has been reported that the couple and their two children left the country in November 2016, while the body of Demafelis was discovered recently when the owner of the apartment obtained permission from the court to enter the apartment.
Initially, the officers tasked to investigate the case thought the suspects were staying in Lebanon but a report published by Al-Rai daily disclosed they are in Syria. The daily also revealed that Assaf filed a missing report on Demafelis two days before leaving the country. Assaf reportedly grew up in his paternal aunt’s house in Beirut. His relatives think he is being controlled by his wife, indicating he cannot even smoke in front of her. Assaf’s aunt told Al-Rai daily that she raised him after his father left his mother. “It’s impossible. My nephew would never kill anyone,” she stressed. “The last time we saw him was around two years ago when he came for his father’s funeral. He then returned to Kuwait and we later learnt that he went to Syria,” she added. “Maybe his wife is behind the crime. She is edgy and he always feared her. He once let her kick his mother from their house in Kuwait,” Assaf’s cousin said. His relatives added that Assaf’s mother once visited him in Syria and when she returned she told them that he looked “mentally unstable.”
Meanwhile, Filipino officials continue to comment on the decision of Duterte to stop sending workers to Kuwait. Manila Bulletin published a report on its website Monday quoting Senator Ralph Recto as saying that the government must provide “prompt care” for Filipino workers returning from Kuwait. He stressed the need for the government to help Filipinos working in Kuwait, taking into consideration the value of their remittances. In a press statement, Recto said these workers are not sending small amount to the country such that their remittances “help keep the economy afloat.” He cited as an example the remittances of Filipinos working in Kuwait last year which reached P40.6 billion. He added this amount exceeds the earnings of large companies in the Philippines; pointing out that if these Filipino workers were a company, they would have been ranked as the 37th biggest in the country. He went on to say, “This financial contribution to their homeland makes them deserving of government care, whether repatriation or legal help if they are still there, and employment and livelihood assistance once they are home for good.”
Moreover, globalnation.inquirer.net has quoted Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano as saying, “Our efforts to protect our fellow citizens will not end with the imposition of deployment bans or the repatriation of our workers in countries where they are prone to maltreatment. We will also go after illegal recruiters, human traffickers and other modern-day slave traders who continue to victimize our people.” — english.alarabiya.net, news. mb.com.ph and globalnation.inquirer. net
By Michelle Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies
DUBAI: Gulf metropolis Dubai, on its never-ending quest to break records, announced the opening of the “world’s new tallest hotel” on Sunday, pipping another towering landmark in the city for the title.
The gleaming gold 75-storey Gevora Hotel stands 356 metres, or nearly a quarter of a mile, tall. The new record-holder is within view of its predecessor, Dubai’s JW Mariott Marquis — just one metre shorter.
The Gevora’s first guests are expected on Monday, according to Emirati daily The National. Dubai is also home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which pierces the city skyline at 828 metres (half a mile) high.
The city-state, one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the energy-rich United Arab Emirates, aims to attract 20 million visitors annually by 2020 when it hosts the global trade fair Expo 2020.
The desert emirate boasts opulent shopping malls, numerous luxury resorts and even an indoor ski resort.
A major transit hub situated on transcontinental air routes, Dubai airport was the world’s busiest for international passengers in 2017 for the fourth year running, with 88.2 million travellers.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018
Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi is to go on trial before an Israeli military court on Tuesday for slapping and punching two Israeli soldiers an act Palestinians say embodies their David vs. Goliath struggle against a brutal military occupation and Israel portrays as a staged provocation meant to embarrass its military.
Israel's full-throttle prosecution of Tamimi, one of an estimated 300 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails, and a senior Israeli official's recent stunning revelation that he once had parliament investigate whether the blond, blue-eyed Tamimis are a “real” Palestinian family have helped stoke ongoing interest in the case.
The teen with the curly mane of hair who turned 17 in jail last month has become the latest symbol of the long-running battle between Palestinians and Israelis over global public opinion.
The case touches on what constitutes legitimate resistance to Israel's rule over millions of Palestinians, already in its 51st year after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967.
Ahed Tamimi's supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers outside her West Bank home in frustration after having just learned that Israeli troops seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.
Israel has treated Tamimi's actions as a criminal offence, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement that could potentially land her in prison for several years.
Tamimi's middle-of-the-night arrest from her home in December and her pre-trial court appearances, flanked by Israeli guards and looking impassive, have evoked a sense of history on a loop.
Another generation of Palestinians seems locked in a cycle of protests and arrests by Israel, three decades after Palestinians staged their first uprising, throwing stones and burning tires in the streets.
Since the mid-1990s, several US-mediated rounds of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel have ended in failure.
Gaps in positions only widened in the past decade, as Israeli settlement expansion continued and the Palestinians failed to end a crippling political split between an internationally backed self-rule government in parts of the West Bank and the militant group Hamas which dominates Gaza.
Tamimi's father Bassem, who threw his first stone at the age of 14 and was an activist in the first uprising, said he expects the military court will deal harshly with his daughter and that she might remain in prison for some time.
His wife, Nariman, is being prosecuted in the same Dec. 15 scuffle in their village of Nabi Saleh and has been locked up alongside their daughter.
Since 2009, residents of Nabi Salah have staged regular anti-occupation protests that often ended with stone-throwing clashes.
Ahed Tamimi has participated in such marches from a young age, and has had several highly publicised run-ins with soldiers. One photo shows the then 12-year-old raising a clenched fist toward a soldier towering over her.
Despite the personal pain, the father said he is optimistic heading into the courtroom and that he believes he is witnessing progress.
He argues that his daughter's case and the outpouring of support for her more than 1.7 million people have already signed an online petition calling for her release signal the beginning of the final chapter of Israel's occupation.
“I see that we are starting the turning point in our history, to deal with our occupier and colonisation in a different way,” said Tamimi. “Yes, there is a price (to pay) ... but this generation Ahed represents will be the generation of freedom.”
Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, doesn't believe the trial will hurt Israel's image, saying that “those who are against Israel will be against it if she (Tamimi) is brought to court or if she is not.”
Amidror played down the findings of a recent Pew poll that indicated younger, liberal Americans are less supportive of Israel's narrative than older generations.
He portrayed young liberals as naive and said he expects their views to change as they get older, but added that Israel needs to work “very, very hard not to lose these people.”
In Nabi Saleh, Bassem Tamimi has used the interest in his daughter's case to generate more support, saying he has hosted hundreds of foreigners in his home since her Dec. 19 arrest. His living room is decorated with several “Free Ahed” posters and one of Nariman.
On a recent morning, he met with volunteer observers from Switzerland, Sweden, Colombia, Argentina and Britain, going over the details of Ahed's case and explaining his political views, including his support for a single, bi-national state in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal rights.
The visitors, part of a program that typically has them touring the West Bank for three months, listened intently and jotted down some of what he said. “Your notes will be part of history in the near future,” he told them. “And we will put it in a museum.”
The visit ended with hugs, tears and a group photo on his porch, against the backdrop of Nabi Saleh, a village of about 600 members of the extended Tamimi clan.
After the group left, Bassem Tamimi got word that Hebrew graffiti had popped up on several walls in the village, but that teenagers were trying to cover up the threatening messages.
He rushed to the area, a few hundred meters (yards) from an army watchtower at the edge of the village, to try to preserve what he felt were valuable tools in the PR battle with Israel.
The first slogan called for the death penalty for Ahed. A second read: “The Tamimi family has no place in the Land of Israel.”
A third warned: “Greetings from the retaliation branch of the IDF.” As he took photos and video to be posted on social media, a dozen teenagers, some masked, headed toward the watchtower for weekly stone-throwing clashes with soldiers.
Worried that they might try to spray over the graffiti, Tamimi shouted, “Leave it, leave it,” as the group walked past him.
The boys began throwing stones toward a main road that separates Nabi Saleh from the Israeli settlement of Halamish, built in part on expropriated village land. Several soldiers arrived and fired stun grenades and rubber coated steel pellets.
From her second-floor balcony, Fattoum Tartier, a 41-year-old English teacher, kept an eye on her 11-year-old son, Hussein, in the street below to make sure he didn't join the clashes.
“I want my children to live a good life, like everyone else in other parts of the world,” she said, her words punctuated by the booms from stun grenades.
TRIPOLI: About 20 people feared to have drowned on a boat that sank off Libya late last week were brought back to shore by smugglers and are being held at an unknown location, an embassy official said on Wednesday.
The group includes eight Pakistanis, one of whom called officials to say that smugglers were holding him in a locked room with other survivors.
Previously, just three people were known to have survived after a boat carrying more than 90 people sank off the western Libyan town of Zuwara.
The bodies of 12 Pakistanis who died in the incident have been recovered and brought to a morgue in the capital, Tripoli, awaiting repatriation.
The victims are mostly from Gujrat, according to the embassy official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
A total of 20 people being held at unknown location
A total of 32 Pakistanis were said to have been on the boat, and the number who died was still unclear, he said.
Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July last year as Libyan factions and authorities — under pressure from Italy and the European Union — have begun to block departures.
Zuwara was a top departure point until a local backlash against smuggling in 2015. So far this year, just over 3,500 migrants are recorded to have crossed from Libya to Italy, about 60 per cent fewer than during the same period last year, according to the Italian interior ministry.
Pakistanis living in Libya for decades, many of them working in the gold business, have tried to leave because of the collapse in the value of Libyan dinar and a severe liquidity crisis. Others have found their way to Libya through smuggling networks.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2018
HUALIEN, Taiwan, Feb 7, (AFP): Rescue workers pulled survivors and bodies from buildings tilting precariously in the Taiwanese city of Hualien Wednesday after an overnight earthquake killed at least seven people, injured more than 200 and left dozens missing.
Emergency responders were focusing on a 12-storey apartment block and a nearby hotel, both of which were leaning dangerously with their lower floors pancaked after the 6.4-magnitude quake hit the popular tourist city late Tuesday. The national fire agency said six people had been killed across the city, revising down an earlier toll of seven dead after a woman was revived. Some 88 people remain unaccounted for and it was not immediately clear how many of those were trapped inside buildings.
There were grave concerns for the badly leaning Yun Tsui residential building, which also housed a restaurant, shops and a hostel. Dozens of residents — and a string of pets — were rescued with ropes, ladders and cranes. But fire department staff at the site told AFP at least four bodies had been pulled out of the building in the day.
Officials temporarily suspended rescue efforts over fears the building might slip further as engineers raced to push large concrete blocks and steel bars to support the leaning side. Rescue efforts began again as night fell, with emergency responders wielding crowbars and torches to search the lower floors for survivors.
One resident who lives nearby told AFP how he watched the tower block partially collapse. “I saw the first floor sink into the ground. Then it sank and tilted further and the fourth floor became the first floor,” said Lu Chihson, 35, who saw 20 people rescued from the building. “My family were unhurt but a neighbour was injured in their head and is bleeding. We dare not go back home now.
There are many aftershocks and we are worried the house is damaged,” he told AFP. Chen Chih-wei, 80, said he was sleeping in his apartment on the top floor of the building when the quake struck. “My bed turned completely vertical. I was sleeping and suddenly I was standing,” he told AFP. Chen said he managed to crawl to a balcony to wait for rescue, adding that the quake was the strongest he had felt in more than five decades of living in Hualien.
At the Marshal Hotel, which was also leaning and badly damaged, at least two people were killed when the lower floors collapsed. But most residents got out and authorities said they believed there were no more people trapped inside. President Tsai Ing-wen visited the apartment block Wednesday morning. “Now is the prime time for our rescue efforts, our first priority is to save people,” she said in a Facebook post. Hualien is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist hubs as it lies on the picturesque east coast rail line and near the popular Taroko Gorge.
The government said 17 foreigners sought medical treatment for minor injuries. Local resident Blue Hsu said some of those carried out of the hotel were foreigners. “The lower floors sunk into the ground and I saw panicked tourists being rescued from the hotel,” Hsu told AFP. Officials said 214 people had been injured in the quake and 117 rescued from damaged buildings so far. Some 830 people were in shelters while 1,900 houses were without power.
The quake hit just before midnight (1550 GMT) around 21 kms (13 miles) northeast of Hualien, according to the United States Geological Survey. It followed almost 100 smaller tremors to have hit the area in the last three days and comes exactly two years since a quake of the same magnitude struck the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, killing more than 100 people.
Most of the deaths from the February 2016 earthquake were from the 16-storey Wei-kuan apartment complex, which toppled on its side and buried many residents in the rubble. The safety of the building was called into question immediately after the disaster, when metal cans and foam were found to have been used as fillers in the concrete and residents said there had been cracks in the structure.
Five people were found guilty over the disaster, including the developer and two architects. Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes. The island’s worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people. Taiwan has built itself a reputation for cutting edge technology, efficient public transport and safe streets. But an earthquake has again highlighted the well-off island’s history of shoddy construction and questionable safety standards.
More than 20 Houthi fighters surrendered to Yemeni troops on Saturday in the Bayhan district of Shabwa province in eastern Sanaa
The Yemeni army said that it had reclaimed "strategic areas" in eastern Sanaa from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The forces — which are supported by a Saudi-led coalition — fighting in favour of the internationally-recognised government of Yemen's president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi liberated the mountains of Dahshush, Jabal Al Tafaha, Tabat Al Qanaseen and Jabal Al Mashna, said a statement by an army spokesman carried by UAE’s state news agency Wam on Saturday.
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, has been fighting the Houthi militias in Yemen's more than two-year-old civil war, in which more than 10,000 people have been killed, to restore the legitimate government of Mr Hadi.
The statement added that the Yemeni forces killed 28 Houthi rebels and wounded dozens others.
Dozens of Houthi rebels were killed by snipers in the past two weeks, a security source told The National on Sunday.
“Two Houthis were shot and killed by a sniper with suppressors yesterday [on Saturday] in the Shoub area in Sanaa,” he said, adding that it instilled fear in the group "that didn't know where the shots were coming from".
Meanwhile, more than 20 Houthi fighters surrendered to Yemeni troops on Saturday in the Bayhan district of Shabwa province in eastern Sanaa, Yemen’s capital that is controlled by the Houthis.
Dozens of militia fighters have surrendered in the past two weeks in the eastern battlefront in the Bayhan and Usailan districts in Shabwa, reported the Yemeni defence ministry’s 26 September news website.
Maj Gen Abdo Majali, spokesman for the Yemeni army, said that the Houthi rebels are “suffering major losses” on all fronts in the western coast of Hodeidah and Taiz as well as in the northern provinces of Al Jawf and Saada — a stronghold of the Iran-backed rebel group.
“They are suffering major losses day after day as our military forces tighten their grip over the lands, which they control,” Gen Majali told The National on Sunday.
“They were wiped out from Shabwa, and the last posts in Al Safara and Haid bin Akeel were liberated, along with the road that links Shabwa, Maareb and Al Bayda provinces. Al Bayda province will also soon be liberated as the main road is clear now.”
Gen Mejali also said that the Yemeni authorities arrested a number of high-ranking Houthi officials along with loyalists, who are “engineers and responsible for the thousands of landmines planted in various sites they controlled”.
Maps detailing landmine positions were found and designed in Tehran, where most of the engineers were trained, he added.
Fierce clashes between the Yemeni forces and Houthi rebels also broke out in Taiz and Hodeidah to the north of the city of Aden.
A military source told The National that the two sides battled in Al Hamily and Al Nujaiba in the Taiz province as well as Hodeidah.
At least 20 Houthis were killed and 16 were injured, while three troops of the government forces were killed, said the source.
WASHINGTON: The top US general in Afghanistan said on Tuesday that he had not seen a change in Pakistan’s support for militants so far, despite President Donald Trump taking a tougher line against Islamabad.
US officials have long been frustrated by what they see as Pakistan’s reluctance to act against groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network that they believe exploit safe haven on Pakistani soil to launch attacks on neighbouring Afghanistan.
In August, Trump outlined a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, chastising Pakistan over its alleged support for Afghan militants.
US official expressed hope that relations between the two countries could improve after a kidnapped US-Canadian couple and their three children were freed in Pakistan in October, after the couple was abducted in neighbouring Afghanistan.
“We have been very direct and very clear with the Pakistanis... we have not seen those changes implemented yet,” Gen John Nicholson told reporters.
“We are hoping to see those changes, we are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing” the border, Nicholson said.
He added that he believed that senior Taliban leaders were based in Pakistan, while the lower level leadership was in Afghanistan. Pakistan says it has done a great deal to help the US in tracking down terrorists.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017