Editorial: Repatriate undocumented OFWs

BETTER, NOT BITTER. Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) face many challenges and threats in the search for better security for themselves and their families. The risks exponentially increase when OFWs become undocumented immigrants. Public and private stakeholders should cooperate to ensure that no Filipino has to make the ultimate sacrifice of risking life and sanity as an undocumented immigrant. / AP
BETTER, NOT BITTER. Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) face many challenges and threats in the search for better security for themselves and their families. The risks exponentially increase when OFWs become undocumented immigrants. Public and private stakeholders should cooperate to ensure that no Filipino has to make the ultimate sacrifice of risking life and sanity as an undocumented immigrant. / AP

For the Philippines, the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas exposes once more the precarious state of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), in particular those who have no working visas.

In a SunStar Philippines report by HDT last Nov. 11, migration specialist Emmanuel Geslani said that the Philippine government must be proactive in starting the repatriation of about 30,000 OFWs based in Lebanon, most of whom are working as household service workers (HSWs) without legal immigration status.

Geslani pointed out that processing the exit visas of undocumented OFWs requires a “long and tedious procedure.”

Geslani made this advice after Israel recently retaliated with drone strikes and artillery fire directed at Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon, following Hezbollah’s support of the Hamas in its war against Israel.

The escalation of hostilities in the Israel-Hamas War sandwiches OFWs in multiple dilemmas posed by armed conflict, cessation of employment, and a homeland return to debts, unemployment, and poverty.

Many OFWs, especially those working as undocumented workers, fear economic displacement as that is what many are fleeing from in the homeland.

However, for undocumented OFWs, the odds are stacked higher.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega told reporters, who questioned whether Filipinos may have been among those taken as hostages by the Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 attack, that there may be a “handful of Filipinos unaccounted for” in the south of Israel.

The difficulty of extending assistance to undocumented OFWs is exacerbated by the armed crisis. Government officials admit that illegal immigrants must reach out first for assistance because their contact information is not on government databases.

More than the risk of discovery by the authorities is the fear of losing their employment.

Illegal overseas work is double-edged, with the undocumented worker vulnerable to a host of risks: government crackdowns, punitive sanctions, including deportation, spying and betrayal by legal immigrants who take advantage of the monetary rewards offered by the government for information leading to the whereabouts of undocumented workers, illegal and inhuman workplace conditions, and other forms of discrimination.

Despite these perils, authorities point out that a vicious cycle unendingly brings together paperless workers seeking the illusionary greener pastures in foreign lands and unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the readiness of undocumented aliens to take on the most menial of tasks under inhuman conditions for the lowest of pay and the most tenuous of job security terms.

The Israel-Hamas War once more underscores the arduous lives of OFWs, especially those without legal immigration status.

In an Oct. 9 report on news.abs-cbn.com, Trooper Mariano, a caregiver working near Gaza, said that undocumented OFWs have no access to bomb shelters. He hoped that the Philippine authorities would construct a bomb shelter to accommodate those who are in between jobs or have no legal status to work.

Mariano said these Filipinos, who don’t exist on any government paperwork, are left in the cold.

It is heartbreaking that Filipinos will prefer to cling to the edge of the knife (“kapit sa patalim”) to provide a life of security for themselves and their families.

The Philippine government must work with private stakeholders to give all Filipinos a viable, more secure, safer, and sustainable future here in the country.

No Filipino should have to resort to the hazards of living as an undocumented alien. The abnormal should cease to become the normal governing many Filipinos’ lives and aspirations.

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