Over 300 distressed overseas Filipinos (OFs) from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been repatriated during the official visit of President Duterte’s delegation to the middle eastern nation this week.
A total of 347 distressed Filipinos from the kingdom were repatriated, including five children affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday after he was sent by President Duterte for an official visit aimed at enhancing bilateral ties, advancing labor reform cooperation, and ensuring the welfare of Filipinos in the Arab country.
The repatriates flew home via a Philippine Airlines chartered flight as a part of the Philippine government’s repatriation mission from Saudi Arabia.
A second repatriation flight is expected next week.
In a video message to members of the Filipino community in the Kingdom, President Duterte said he has instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to extend cash assistance to the repatriates.
“Bilang tulong po sa inyo (As an assistance to you), I have instructed [DFA] to use Bayanihan 2 funds to give all repatriated OFWs today P10,000 each as reintegration financial assistance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Borje cited President Duterte’s continuing care and concern for overseas Filipinos in distress situations due to the pandemic. He reiterated the government’s commitment towards OFWs.
He likewise thanked His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud for making the repatriation possible.
Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud assured President Duterte during a phone conversation “that the Kingdom would continue working together” with the government of the Philippines to uphold migrant workers’ rights. This includes assisting efforts to repatriate distressed Filipinos.
As of June 18, 2021, a total of 403,234 overseas Filipinos had been repatriated by the government since the start of the pandemic. Of the said figure, 105,582 are seafarers while 297,652 are land-based OFs.
Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate.
About half of the total number of Filipinos work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing, and healthcare sectors.
On Thursday, 325 distressed OFWs were repatriated from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Last month, President Duterte approved the additional P5-billion allocation for the repatriation of OFWs, half of the amount requested by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). It is intended to pay for facilities used to quarantine OFWs amid the pandemic.