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.
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.