THE Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) admitted that they could only provide small package of assistance to the returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Iraq.

Owwa Administrator Carmelita Dimzon said the most they could give for financial assistance to these OFWs numbering to 6,000 or up to 10,000 would be P10,000 each and this would come from the National Reintegration Center Office (NRCO) funds.

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“We are also preparing for the arrival of these OFWs like what we prepared during the global financial crisis but you must note that since most of them are undocumented they will not be getting the full benefits like the Owwa members,” Dimzon said in a telephone interview.

Apart from the P10,000 start-up capital, Dimzon said they will also help OFWs who wanted to find employment abroad again by referring them to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

“For those who would opt to stay we could hook them up to our local companies here for reintegration,” Dimzon said.

But Dimzon made it clear that they are not planning to shoulder any centavo from the repatriation of the illegal OFWs since it would be borne by their contractors and sub contractors as per order of the United States Central Command in its order issued last July 20.

“The repatriation will not cost us any amount… the contractors and sub contractors will take care of that,” the Owwa chief said.

Filipinos who are in camp maintenance in support of US Armed Forces in all its operating bases are in charge of laundry, cleaning, maintenance of electrical and mechanical works, catering, transport of logistics and food for the remaining 85,000 US troops in Iraq.

The US Central Command ordered the repatriation of undocumented foreign workers as part of its planned pull out of its bases in Iraq next year.

The Philippine government imposed a ban in the deployment of OFWs in Iraq in late 2003 due to increased cases of suicide bombing. Nepal like the Philippines banned the deployment of its workers in Iraq.

However, the Nepalese government lifted its ban to protect the welfare of its workers.

Just lift Iraq deployment ban

With the impending pull-out of some Filipino workers in Iraq, a renowned recruitment consultant Wednesday urged the Aquino government anew to take the easy way out and simply lift the deployment ban in the war-torn country.

Emmanuel Geslani said the order of the US military to have its accredited contractors remove their workers in Iraq until August 9 would only bring additional headache to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as they will just be added to the millions of unemployed in the Philippines.

“The prospects of 15,000 Filipinos coming home jobless is a nightmare for the new Aquino administration and how to solve the evacuation of thousands of Filipinos is one big problem the government has to prepare for and solve,” said Geslani.

“What will our government do now for our workers? Are they just going to let them come back without giving them a slim chance to work?” he added.

He said it would be better if the government would partially lift the ban in Iraq if only to allow Filipinos to stay until the withdrawal stage of the US military in Iraq has been completed.

“US troops are on a countdown withdrawal stage by August of 2010 with half of the troops remaining until December 2011, which gives the Filipinos one more year to stay and maintain those bases,” noted Geslani.

Recruiters have been repeatedly asking the government to lift the deployment ban since Filipino workers remain capable of sneaking to Iraq to seek employment.

Proof that partial lifting of ban is advisable, he related, is that it is the similar action taken by the Nepalese government, which is the only other country imposing a deployment ban in Iraq since 2004 aside from the Philippines.

“While the Aquino government is feverishly for preparing for the arrival of undocumented Filipino nationals from Iraq, the Nepalese government has lifted the ban for its nationals in Iraq to ensure the welfare of Nepalese working in Iraq,” said Geslani while quoting the report of Nepalnews.com.

The report stated that “the ban imposed by Nepal on its citizens to go to Iraq for employment is likely to be lifted with caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal directing the officials to take necessary steps to ensure the welfare of Nepalis working in Iraq”.

Last July 20, the US Central Command has ordered the removal of all Filipinos currently deployed in Iraq in respect to the laws of the host country and nations with deployment bans imposed.

Since July 2004, the Philippine government has imposed a deployment ban in Iraq following the abduction of truck driver Angelo dela Cruz in Baghdad.

OFWs from other Middle East countries

While the government offers small assistance package for OFWs from Iraq, it will be providing a selection re-integration services to more than 200 OFWs who were repatriated from the Middle East, which will be arriving in batches this week.

“Our repatriation program for all OFWs is a continuing thing, this week, 239 of them coming from Jeddah and Kuwait will arrive. We are ready to receive them with a package of assistance to enable them to reintegrate themselves smoothly into the mainstream of their communities,” said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.

She also assured that the full assistance mode of the Owwa will be provided when the OFWs arrive.

The OFWs from Jeddah are part of the Filipino workers who have been camping out in the Kandara Bridge.

The Labor chief noted that the economic re-integration package consists of skills training and re-training and entrepreneurial assistance.

On the other hand, the Owwa is ready to provide referrals to its social partners for the easy-to-pay financial loans for those who would like to venture into business.

On Wednesday, 82 of them — 25 from Kuwait and 57 from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport while on Thursday, a group of seven workers from Kuwait is expected to arrive on board a Kuwait Airways plane.

On Saturday, they are expecting a big group of 150 OFWs from Jeddah on board a Gulf Air flight.

Baldoz said that most of the repatriates were women who had been charged by their employers of absconding on their employment contracts.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office headed by Labor Attache Vic Cabe made representation with the Jawasat, or the Saudi General Directorate for Passports, which provided the OFWs exit clearances.

The air tickets of the Kandara Bridge OFWs were shouldered by the Owwa, which was generated from the P20 million budget for the continuing repatriation program.

The Kuwaiti government meanwhile shouldered the expenses of the OFW repatriates from Kuwait. (MSN/AMN/FP/Sunnex)