OFW Abuse

This is a really sad story, and something for each person to think about before going to bed. What would you do in this situation?

Last night, an incident happened that really bothered me. Rebecca was an OFW, and I know how OFW’s are often treated while overseas. The incident I am about to describe really gets me angry, however. The way that people can treat others is sometimes outright despicable.

We had a great weekend down in Brunei, and arrived back in Manila late last night. While we were organizing our stuff waiting by the taxi queue, a fairly young girl, about 18 years old, approached Rebecca crying, obviously in trouble of some sort, and speaking Bisaya. Fortunately, Rebecca speaks some Bisaya (The girl DID NOT speak Tagalog, much less English), and the girl asked Becky if she could use her cell phone to call her cousin. Here’s what happened:

1. A Filipino recruiter went to this girl’s village somewhere very remote in Mindanao advertising “waitress” jobs in Dubai. The girl’s family was poor, and Muslim, so they agreed to let her go to this job and earn money for the family.

2. She was given a passport and sent to a 1 hour “familiarization” course subcontracted to an outside firm (NOT the recruiter) the same day she was put on a plane for Dubai. She had only 500 pesos in her pocket.

3. She arrived in Dubai, without a visa, and was denied entry into the UAE for “medical reasons” (She is diabetic). She has a big red stamp in her passport basically stating she is on the blacklist.

4. After several days being held in Dubai airport immigration, with minimal food (Trust me… You do not want this to happen to you), she was put on a flight back home, via Brunei. No relatives were called, no one to pick her up, and no one to get her back to Mindanao… Essentially dumped at the Manila Airport. She still had only the 500 pesos in her pocket and no cell phone… Just the clothes on her back and a small bookbag.

So, this is when we meet, outside the taxi queue, and this girl scared, not knowing what to do, approaches us. Becky and I tried to phone several relatives of hers, all of whom simply hung up the phone on her. She had been disowned because she was back in the Philippines and brought dishonor to her family. It turns out that this “Agency” contacted the family demanding the fees and cost of her ticket and the family, not having any money to pay, simply disowned her. We finally got in touch with her cousin in Cubao, who was supposed to meet her. OK… So far, problem solved (we think). We invited her to share our taxi to get her to her relatives, where she would be safer than roaming the streets. On the ride to Cubao, Rebecca gets her story, looks at her documents, and tells her how to handle the agency (They did many illegal things, in BOTH countries). Needless to say, most of the documents were either forged or incomplete. The girl did not even know the name of the agency and the employer was one Becky recognized as for housemaids… That in itself is an entirely different problem. In other words, there was no way that this girl would be admitted anywhere. She and her family were outright scammed.

Rebecca is very knowledgeable about these things. She left home at 22 years old, a naive young girl, on her first posting to Kuwait. She was paid $90 per month as a housemaid, and fed only a roll, 50 grams of cheese, and one egg per day for six months. There were many other abuses I will not describe other than to say that her experience bordered on slavery. She never set foot outside the compound her entire time in Kuwait. When her contract was up, she went to secretarial school in the UAE while working at another horrid job, later becoming a recruiter for a large company in Abu Dhabi. Eventually, she was the POEA liaison for this company, and the P.R.O. for the UAE company. She left that company because she could not stomach the abuses any longer… it was “dirty money”, dealing in human beings, to quote her exact words. She never sent one peso home during that time… she didn’t want her shame (her words…she has nothing to be ashamed of) to reflect on her family… She spent it on clothing and food for the people she recruited, instead of on herself. I met her ten years after, while she was a bookkeeper and also handled the visa issues for another company. So, she knows the system, how it works, and all of the various immigration requirements for both countries. She has been on the receiving end and lived it.

So, continuing on with the story, the taxi driver is confused about the address we gave him. We then couldn’t reach the cousin. The phone has been turned “off” since we reached her at the airport. We gave the girl our phone numbers (so Becky could deal with the agency for her…) Unlicensed. We were going to call a few bigshots at the POEA who are “friends” and shut these people down), 200 pesos for something to eat and to keep trying to reach relatives. We were also discussing offering her a job on the farm, where she would be paid, and safe. She insisted to be let off in Cubao (Despite being a horrible, and unsafe, location). We told her repeatedly to call us and have tried to contact the cousin. We did all we could to help. But, you can’t force someone to accept it.

There are companies and individuals here who prey on the ignorant and desperate. There are licensed agencies who are audited and regulated. The government tries to warn people not to believe any agency, other than those affiliated with the POEA. Yet, the poverty still drives people to these scum. Just something to think about before you hire your next maid, or exclaim how cheap labor is here.

Post Author: JohnM (207 Posts)

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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  1. chasdv says

    Hi John,yet another sad story among many.I applaude the assistance you gave to this young girl,you did the best you could in the situation.I just hope she found safety with her cousin,regards Chas.

  2. Tom Ramberg says

    Wow! That is a really tragic story, especially the part about the lousy family that has abandoned her. I bet they would have been happy to receive money from her efforts. It kind of sucks that there is an advertisement for employment in Dubai under your story. Poor marketing by Google huh?

  3. Trevor Davies says

    Hi John – It absolutely boggles the mind to think that when this girl already has had to deal with economic hardship her whole life, things could get any worse. If it's not bad enough that she had to be subjected to this atrocity, to have her family disown her is heartbreaking. I can't imagine for a minute, how I would deal with something like that in a similar situation. I pray she'll be okay.

  4. John Miele says

    Chas, Tom, John, and Trevor: an update since I wrote this. We heard from the girl and she is OK. Becky will be meeting her at the office of a friend who runs a legitimate agency to help her sort this mess out. We told her not to give ANY money to these people, regardless of what they say. Our friend is also going to call the family and try to mend those fences, if possible.

  5. says

    I know things like this happen and it still boggles the mind. I have been so blessed in my life.Stories like this make me stop and do a reality check. I really feel bad about thinking life has so mistreated me at times. It happens all over the world, but I have heard many horror stories about filipinas working in the Mid East. My girl friend was headed to Dubai when I first met her and I talked her out of it. The reprecussion from family was hard for me to initially understand. I finally made her understand that if she did not take care of herself first she would not be able to help anyone else in the future.
    Thanks to both of you for helping her.

  6. says

    Hi John Miele, it's indeed a very tragic story among so many others. Thanks a lot to you and Becky. And good to know your update: the girl is okay now…

  7. Beth says

    HI JohnM,

    I am glad to hear that she's OK afterall. Kudos to you and Rebecca for the compassion and help you extended to this girl. I am saddened by stories like this but in a way, I'm glad she came back home. I've heard of a lot of stories of girls getting raped by their employer in the Middle East.

    It makes me angry to hear of illegal recruiters preying on the naivite of poor families from remote areas. I don't understand how they can stomach making a living by scamming others. Another thing is hearing one's own family turning their back on one of their own. My heart goes out to this girl.

  8. says

    Good on you, John and Rebecca and more power to you!
    I have relatives from here working in the middle east. They are relatively well treated but still working long hours with few rest days and worst, they are only getting to come home once every 2 years. One uncle did this for ten years and it destroyed his marriage; despite the remittances. He is still devastated 7 years later.
    Australia and Canada have recently changed policies on 'Unskilled workers' to allow seasonal work to get done. I haven't done much research on how this applies to Pinoy in particular as yet; but I do know these countries minimum wages are 5 times those in the middle east and labor safety laws are much more stringent.

  9. says

    First of all I would like to say thank you for the help you have and are rendering this young lady, I know from past dealing with recruiting agencies and the emigration departments of several different countries that they can be very cruel in there day to day business practices.

    I have also spent more then 18 years as an OFW (I am a U.S. citizen), and 12 years in the U.S. Military traveling the world. I met my wife in Kuwait and have been working here for 13 years, (ITT systems div) so I fully understand a lot of the hardships that can befall a person.

    It just so happens that my wife and I are looking for some domestic help in Manila, unfortunately my wife is in transit back here to Kuwait for a visit at this time, so I cant speak directly to her yet, but I am sure we can work something out with this young lady if she is willing to work in the Manila area, please talk to her and then send me an E-Mail at [email protected], or [email protected].

    P.S. My wife will not be returning to Manila till early January, so this might be an issue, or not, if we can work something out with this young lady. Thanks.

  10. says

    I just checked out the new 416 work visa to Australia, unfortunately it only applies to south Pacific islanders.

    Skilled workers can apply for a 457 class visa to Australia without an agency being involved; it's between the employer and prospective employee; many are paying fares etc. in high demand areas. Check these sites out if interested:

    On the other hand Canada looks like opportunity even for unskilled workers.

  11. says

    SAD , but the ending sounds ok. Could we have more success stories about OFW workers, just similar to Becky's experiences. I have heard so many horrible stories ( divorces, rapes, slavery), but would like to hear success stories. I know of one OFW here in Marinduque, who worked in Kuwait and has constructed a nice home for his family here in Marinduque. I do not know the details of his work in Kuwait, but I am always happy to see his family enjoying the fruits of his labor.

  12. John Miele says

    Tim: I'm glad you convinced her otherwise. After my experiences in the middle east, my opinion of the place is terrible (deservedly so)

    Beth and Klaus: I think she'll be fine once we can get her papers sorted and others involved at the gov't level.

    Chris: rebecca and I try and convince people to try for Australia or Canada, if they can.

    Steve: I'll pass your offer over to her. I think she wants to go back to Mindanao, despite her family.

    David: I know it is sad and there are many success stories. I wrote this because, as an outsider, other foreigners could experience something similar.

  13. larry davis says

    people like you are ablessing from god we all need to help when we can god will bless you and your wife. the girl i hope will try to be more careful i hope so. its a good feeling to help god bless

  14. Martin says

    Hi John,

    A sad story indeed. As you and others have mentioned, these scams happen all too often. While foreigners always complain of being ripped off, these stories show how it is not just the foreigners who get taken in. Scam artists will prey on anybody — the more vulnerable the victim, the more audacious the scam.

  15. Oman says

    Truly a sad story. I'm wondering just how it was that the agency thought they could send her without a visa – here in Oman, it's required and yes, they would be turned right back around if she didn't have her approved medical certificate and visa. She would then be required to go through another medical exam after entering the country. But, all of that is besides the point of your post. The poor girl went half-way to hell with her experience.

    I do think that David B's comment was excellent though. There are success stories from domestic workers working here in the M.E. and how they were able to send their relatives to college, build homes, start businesses. Simply amazing! In our case, we do have a filipina maid and she is well taken care of while she works with us. So much so that she is able to send her entire salary, free of deductions to her family every month. She doesn't pay utilities, rent, grocery bills, medical bills, clothing is provided (no uniforms in my house – she's just like one of us and is given Gap / Levis / Hush Puppies to wear) her personal products are on me and of course we feed her anything and everything she wants! In fact, she came to us looking quite malnourished and left on her last leave looking quite plump and healthy, only to return back a month later looking malnourished again!

    I feel for the workers that end up with screwy employers and just don't understand how these agencies can get away with these scams.

  16. John Miele says

    Oman: you are doing it the right way… This lady is taking care of your children! I never understood how some people lose sight of that fact.

    In the UAE, there is a provisional entry leter that precedes the visa. The document appeared to be forged. Alsio, the medical did not mention diabetes, but customs is suspicious when she has insulin but a clean med clearance. Rebecca knew the UAE employer, one notorious for providing maids and "working girls". It appears this is scamming on both sides.

    Btw: I have heard of bad stories all over the world… Not just the middle east. I have been to Oman, and I find most Omani to be decent people and the abuses there are not as blatant.

  17. bcgallacher says

    Those of us who have been employed in Middle Eastern countries will find the horror stories all too familiar,there are even worse – young girls vanishing on arrival etc with a complete lack of concern from local authorities.Much of the blame must go to fellow Philippinos who are prepared to exploit the poor and desperate.

  18. Jim says

    Hi John- People will always make profit from the sheer misery of others. You both did what you could and that is commendable, but this kind of thing will continue I'm afraid as long as there is poverty.
    It makes me sad to think there is such evil people on our planet.
    Kind regards.

  19. David S. says

    Thank you for sharing this story John. It;s good to know there are kind hearted people like you and Rebecca looking out for the less foutunate among us.

  20. Tim Walker says

    John, I see you mentioned that she is wanting to return to Mindanao?? If that be the case and she his anywhere near Davao City would she be interested in being a maid for me and my girlfriend and her family?? I will be hiring one sometime here in the near future for some help with a project and to help around the house as well?? Do you happen to know where she is from here???

  21. dans says

    hi john,

    nice article, try this, filipinos are not only abused abroad, filipinos are also abused by foreigners in our own land. just recently in the newspaper, a korean restaurant owner hit his filipina manager in the face with a beer mug because the restaurant is losing the business and he is blaming the manager for it.

    the point i am making is simply this, we don't need to look far to see how filipinos are being abused, everyday there's an abuse happening in the philippines committed by other nationalities, Chinese and Koreans are well known for this.

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