OFWs in UAE seek Locsin’s help to address canceled flights
ABU DHABI, UAE – A group of over 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the United Arab Emirates, stranded due to canceled flight bookings, have banded together to seek help from Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The group, UAE Stranded OFWs, tagged Locsin on Twitter on June 20 to explain their plight. Their bookings with Emirates were cancelled because Philippine aviation authorities had allowed the airline to land in Manila only 3 times a week. The airline apparently had to push back passengers to later dates.
The group said their members were forced to rebook for August 1, but they don't have the means to survive in UAE for two more months.
“We need po daily ang flights ng Emirates Airlines for July,” they said in the first tweet. (We need Emirates flights to be daily.)
“Considering our situation, hindi na po kaya. All our lines will be cut off, evicted na dn po kami sa bahay nmin. Please help us,” another tweet said. (Considering our situation, we'd be left with nothing. All our [phone] lines will be cut off, we've been evicted from our residence. Please help us.)
Rappler reached out to the DFA for comment, but has yet to receive a response as of posting.
More than 88,000 overseas Filipino workers in the UAE have either lost their jobs, are on a no-work-no-pay arrangement, or have had their salaries cut. The Philippine labor department has allocated only a one-time assistance to 17,000 OFWs there.
The OFWs’ original flights have been scheduled for next month but have been canceled until further notice from the Philippine government.
Running on empty
The group’s spokesperson, Georgia Nagaño Galimba, said there were many among their 208 members who are currently living in dire straits and running on empty.
“Marami po kaming mga nakakausap na members namin sa group na kinakailangan nang umalis sa mga bahay nila, maka-cut na ang electricity, water, and wifi. Higit sa lahat, wala na pong panggastos even sa food,” she told Rappler.
Many of our group members need to move out of their homes, their electricity, water, and wifi will be soon be cut off. Most crucial of all, they don't have money to spend anymore, even on food.)
Galimba said that, on average, flight bookings have been cancelled for up to 3 or 4 times. The updates on re-booking take about a month to come by.
“We're asking po on behalf of all stranded OFWs here in UAE, na please accommodate us. Bigyan 'nyo po kami ng flights approval para sa aming airlines. A day of extended stay here costs a lot. Hindi na po namin hiningi na tulungan kami financially, kami na po bumili ng sarili naming tickets, ang gusto lang po namin ay makauwi sa Pilipinas,” Galimba said.
(We're asking on behalf of all stranded OFWs here in UAE, please accommodate us. Just please issue flight approval to our airlines. A day of extended stay here costs a lot. We didn't ask government anymore to help us financially. We bought our own tickets. We just want to be able to go gome to the Philippines.)
Another member said there were expectant mothers and senior citizens among the stranded OFWs.
“We have tried talking to the different agencies in the Philippines, but we were only given the runaround,” said Sandy Gomez (not her real name).
She said they had tried appealing to the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi, but were told that flight approvals was beyond their jurisdiction.
“Tinanong po namin ang Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), hindi daw po sa kanila, sa Department of Foreign Affairs daw po. Tinanong po namin sa DFA, sabi po ay sa embassy sa bansa, (na) ang sabi ay Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) naman daw po ang responsible,” Gomez said.
(We inquired with the NAIA, we were told it's not within their authority, it's with the DFA. When we asked the DFA, they said go to our embassy, which in turn told us it's the CAAP's responsibility.)
She said she and the group’s members booked tickets on their own. “Kasi kung iaasa lang po sa repatriation by the Philippine embassy or consulate ay baka po sa 2021 na kami makauwi lahat.” (Because if we will leave it to the Philippine embassy or consulate, we might be able to go home in 2021 yet.)
Priority for UAE OFWs
A ranking DFA official, on condition of anonymity, explained to Rappler that Philippine embassies in top OFW-destination countries like the UAE have been requesting CAAP, with help from the DFA home office in Manila, to grant more flight approvals for landing of airlines in Manila, Clark, and other Philippine airports.
“Therefore, for the past weeks there have been a number of flights approved and the airlines are able to accommodate the rebookings of these cancelled flights,” the official said.
“Due to COVID, the allocation of number of allowed flights from all over the worlds is limited. But UAE is being given priority due to the requests of the embassy [there] and DFA. Still, the backlog is huge,” the official added.
Meantime, Galimba said most of the bookings were made in May and first week of June.
The Facebook group was formed on June 22, and immediately got 208 members two days later. It serves as a clearing platform for those waiting for word about their bookings. Members are from the different emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, among them.
Bookings were made with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Emirates Airlines, and Turkish Airlines, with the bulk of the flights originally scheduled for July but have been cancelled until further notice from the Philippine government.
“We formed the group so everyone can be calibrated on the information from the airlines, because more often than not, they get different answers to the same questions, which only creates confusion. It also eases the mode of communication in cases where there were sudden changes, like flight approvals,” Galimba said.
She said the group has a mix of members – domestic helps, laborers, and sales, while some were holding administrative jobs. Around 30% of the 208 were those terminated from work; 40% were those on no-work-no-pay arrangement; and the remaining 30% were worried about the state of the UAE’s economy.
“Umaandar po ang bills, pero ang salary nag-stop. Magpapatong-patong lang po ang mga utang kapag mag-stay pa kami dito,” Galimba said. (The bills are running, but the salary has stopped. Our debts will just be compounded if we continue to stay here.) – Rappler.com