World News

Philippines Bars Citizens From Working in Kuwait After Body Is Found

Posted February 12, 2018 8:29 a.m. EST

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Monday barred its citizens from traveling to Kuwait for employment, accusing the oil-rich Gulf state of turning a blind eye to the abuse and even killing of domestic workers and other Filipinos.

The announcement came days after the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, responded angrily to reports that the body of a Filipino domestic worker had been found in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait.

“As to the need for justice, we will hold Kuwait responsible under the concept of state responsibility,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said Monday. He called on Kuwait to provide legal redress to Filipino victims of what he called “horrendous crimes.”

Calls to the Kuwaiti Embassy in Manila went unanswered Monday.

About half a million Filipinos live in Kuwait, most of them employed as domestic workers, according to the Philippine government. The Philippine economy is heavily dependent on remittances, with 10 percent of the country’s population working overseas and sending money home.

On Friday, Duterte showed graphic photographs on live television of a Filipino domestic worker whose body he said had been found in a freezer in Kuwait. The body had been there for about a year and showed signs of torture and strangulation, Duterte said, citing information from the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait.

“Every abuse committed against an OFW is an affront against us, as a sovereign nation,” Duterte said, using an abbreviation for overseas Filipino worker. “I could not stomach this, it is totally, totally unacceptable to me.”

The president said a review of labor records had determined that Filipino workers were subjected to a “repugnant” level of abuse in Kuwait.

Duterte said the government would bring home any workers in Kuwait who wanted to leave. On Monday, about 400 people were flown to Manila from Kuwait, according to the government in Manila, which added that it would try to find work for them in the Philippines.

For weeks, Duterte has been publicly mulling the possibility of a ban on allowing workers to go to Kuwait. The Philippine government said last month that it was suspending the approval of employment certificates for such workers while the deaths of several domestic workers in Kuwait, under what the Philippine government called mysterious circumstances, were investigated.

Human Rights Watch said last month that migrant workers in Kuwait “remain vulnerable to abuse despite recent reforms,” and that some of the protections established by recent laws did not apply to domestic workers.