Philippines probes labour abuses in Kuwait after new killing

MANILA, Jan 29 (AP): The Philippine government has announced that it will take steps to assess and prevent abuses including rape and maltreatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait, after a housemaid was killed and dumped in a desert in the oil-rich emirate.

The remains of Jullebee Ranara were flown home Friday night from Kuwait, where the 35-year-old was reportedly killed by her employer’s son then dumped with burn marks, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said.

Filipino officials were trying to confirm news reports that she was raped and was pregnant when she was killed by the 17-year-old suspect, who has been taken into custody by Kuwaiti police, she said. The Philippine government would do everything to ensure justice for the victim, she said.

"It’s a very gruesome, senseless crime and so the perpetrator must be punished,” Ople said in an online news conference.

Her killing is the latest tragedy to befall an overseas worker from the Philippines, where about a tenth of its more than 110 million have left mainly due to unemployment and poverty and now work or live in more than 200 countries to provide for families back home.

The huge income they send home has helped keep Manila’s economy afloat.

Ople said she would send a team of officials to Kuwait to find out what sparked a rise in cases of abuse of Filipino workers in recent years in the tiny emirate and what preventive steps could be taken. Sexual abuse and rape, human trafficking, labour contract violations and illegal terminations were among the common complaints of Filipinos, she said.

About 268,000 Filipinos currently work in Kuwait, including many housemaids. More than 400 Filipinos sought shelter in recent weeks in an emergency center run by the Philippine Embassy due to labor problems, and nearly half have flown back to Manila, Migrant Workers Undersecretary Hans Cacdac said.

Kuwait’s ambassador to Manila, Musaed Saleh Althwaikh, expressed his condolences and assured Ople that Ranara’s "tragic passing” was an isolated case.

"Kuwaiti society is shocked and saddened to hear about the demise of Mrs. Ranara,” the ambassador said in the letter, copies of which were provided to journalists. "Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara.”

In 2018, then-President Rodrigo Duterte banned the deployment of workers to Kuwait after a Filipino housemaid, Joanna Demafelis, was found dead and mutilated inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment. The ban was eventually lifted.

The killing led to the signing of a 2018 labor pact between the Philippines and Kuwait, which provided more protection to Filipinos, including a ban on a practice of employers to take hold of the passports and travel documents to prevent workers from fleeing when abuses happen or disputes arise.

Abuses, however, have persisted despite the agreement, which Ople said would be examined and strengthened to introduce more safeguards for Filipino workers.- AP

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