Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) rights defender and advocate Susan “Toots” Ople raised concern Wednesday, July 28 over human traffickers’ potential preying on stranded Filipino workers abroad.
In a virtual press briefing ahead of Friday’s observation of the “World Day against Trafficking in Persons”, Ople described the stranded OFWs, particularly those stuck in the Middle East as a “vulnerable” group when it comes to human trafficking or smuggling.
The Blas Ople Policy Center (Ople Center) founder and president said she was particularly referring to OFWs who have been displaced by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Those who are not able to come home and their contracts have already expired and their working visas are also about to expire or have expired, and they have no means to fund themselves while waiting for the flights home,” she said, noting that these individuals number in the “thousands”.
“We’d like to flag our concern that these stranded OFWs are actually vulnerable to trafficking in these countries and also to human smuggling in other countries as they try find their way home,” Ople said.
While the government has been carrying out repatriation flights from the Middle East, the travel restrictions stemming from the pandemic have made the process a difficult one.
“We just like to ask or call on our embassies, the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] and our labor attachés to be extra vigilant that while the repatriation of OFWs…is going on, that let’s not close our eyes to the potential crimes that may be going on in terms of illegal recruitment, and human trafficking and smuggling of stranded OFWS,” she said.
Ople is the youngest child of the late former Senate President Blas Ople. The latter also served as DFA secretary.