By Roy Mabasa
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Monday met with Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Manila Abdullah Al Bussairy for discussions on the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on overseas Filipino workers in the Kingdom and the stalled repatriation of hundreds of others due to existing travel restrictions.
The meeting between Locsin and Al-Bussairy came following mounting health and safety concerns among Filipinos and the case of an OFW who recently died of COVID-19 infection in Riyadh.
There are an estimated 700,000 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, the biggest concentration of Filipinos in the Middle East, and one of the largest in the world.
On June 6, 2020, the DFA announced the death of OFW Marcelo Tanyag III, days after the latter, on a video posted on social media, complained that he was not feeling well and was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Last week, Philippine Ambassador to Riyadh Adnan Alonto said they have lodged a “sort of a complaint” against the employer of Tanyag for possible negligence.
In the meeting, the Locsin and the Saudi envoy talked about issues such as improving access to health and support services for Filipinos affected by the pandemic, and treatment of the remains of those who passed away due to COVID-19.
To date, there are 127,541 confirmed COVID-19 cases in entire Saudi Arabia, 84,720 have recovered and 972 died.
The two diplomats likewise tackled the challenge posed by limited flights between their respective countries due to existing travel restrictions aimed to prevent the spread of the disease.
The DFA said it would continue working closely with the local civil aviation authorities on the urgent need to allow the resumption of as many flights as possible to repatriate many distressed and affected Filipinos in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world.