KUWAIT: Philippine Vice Consul to Kuwait Charleson Hermosura talks with OFWs who recently availed AVRP. — Photo by Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Noraisa, a Filipina domestic helper in Kuwait returned home yesterday, after 16 years of working without a visa. She is one of 74 other undocumented Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Kuwait who were repatriated as part of the continuing program by the Kuwait's Ministry of Interior and Kuwait Immigration Department under the Assisted Voluntary Repatriation Program (AVRP). The group flew back to the Philippines late yesterday via Gulf Air.

The group was led to Kuwait International Airport by Philippine Embassy's Assistance to Nationals Unit (ATNU) along with Philippine Vice Consul to Kuwait Charleson Hermosura. "We are happy and thankful for the great help and cooperation given to us by Kuwait's Ministry of Interior and Immigration Department. This Assisted Voluntary Repatriation Program (AVRP) is a continuing program and it helps many of our compatriots leave the country without being charged for violating the country's immigration rules," Hermosura said. "Without this program, many Filipinos are in jail for violating immigration rules, while many are also deported. Thank God for AVRP," Hermosura added.

A way out

The AVRP is an agreement signed between the Kuwait government and the Philippines embassy in Kuwait as a way out for many illegal Filipinos in the country without detention and penalty. Out of 75 repatriated OFWs yesterday, only two were from the Philippine embassy's Philippine Overseas Labor Office and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (POLO-OWWA) shelter. The Embassy shelter is currently housing more that 200 runway housemaids. Their repatriation is also being assisted by POLO-OWWA with the help of Kuwait's Ministry of Interior.

To this date, there are hundreds of applicants on the AVRP list. Those who wish to leave the country through AVRP were asked to coordinate with the Philippine Embassy and wait till the Ministry of Interior processes their applications. It usually takes months to complete the process but while awaiting for the immigration and the embassy procedures to complete, many of the applicants can still work at their own risk.

Noraisa, not her real name, lived in Kuwait for 16 years without a visa and was never stopped by the police, she claimed. "Maybe because I was wearing decent clothes with 'hijab' and police do not mind a simple woman like me. Besides, I rarely leave the place unless it is very important or to go the baqalas (small grocery store). I would walk closer to the buildings and if I saw police, I used to hide in the closest building," she said.

Case filed

Noraisa claimed to have filed a case in 2001 against her employer, who did not pay her salary for a year. "That case did not prosper and my employer did not cooperate. So while waiting for the case to resolve, an embassy personnel allowed me to work with a Filipino couple who worked as a nurse. From there I transferred from one Filipino employer to another," she admitted. Noraisa was also thankful that for the last 16 years, she has not encountered any major health issues. "I have only had mild fevers and mostly eat healthy food like veggies and seafood," she said. She claimed to have left the Philippines in 1999 to work as a domestic helper. After completing two years, she asked her unclaimed one year salary from her employer which she did not get. She ran away and sought the embassy's help. A case was filed but it did not resolve since the employer did not cooperate.

Seven years

Linda, another domestic helper also availed AVRP yesterday. She worked in a sweets factory in Kuwait for seven years without a visa. "I was arrested by immigration police four times because I had no visa. But my employer was a very influential person, so police would release me eventually," she told Kuwait Times.

Linda worked less than a year for her first employer before running away. "My problem with my first employer was that I was the only helper in their big house. Besides, I was not allowed to take a day off; so I left that house and ran away and found a job in a sweet factory," she said. The repatriated workers yesterday did not have to pass through a deportation center but were informed to arrive early at the airport few hours before their scheduled flight at 6 pm last night.

By Ben Garcia