By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: May 15, 2008
MANILA, Philippines — An alliance of overseas Filipino workers’ organizations in the Middle East called on the government Thursday to intensify their monitoring against recruitment agencies that have been sending OFWs to Lebanon despite the deployment ban imposed by the government.
Migrante-Middle East said an official of the Filipino-Lebanese Friendship Association based in Lebanon claimed that around 5,000 Filipino domestic helpers have entered the eastern Mediterranean country since the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006 ended.
“Like in Iraq, despite deployment ban imposed by the Arroyo administration, we are wondering why there are still a considerable numbers of OFWs that have been sent to work as domestic helpers in Lebanon where a civil war is now escalating,” John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East’s Saudi Arabia-based regional coordinator, said in a statement sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He urged the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to intensify its monitoring drive against recruitment agencies that were continuously sending OFWs in Lebanon and Iraq, where there was heavy internal conflict.
“The Arroyo administration and POEA should seriously prosecute recruitment agencies violating the deployment ban in Lebanon and Iraq to ensure that our fellow OFWs and aspiring alike will not be sent to war-torn Iraq and Lebanon,” Monterona added.
Reports indicated that violence has been escalating in Lebanon due to infighting of two warring Muslim factions, the Shiite and Sunni groups. Monterona said that based on Migrante’s monitoring, the unrest may escalate in the coming days.
An estimated 50 people have already been killed due to heavy fighting between United States-backed Lebanon government army and militia Hezbollah group that ensued when the former opted a policy of disarming the latter.
Early this week, Lebanon’s pro-government and opposition factions reached a deal to revoke the two decisions that sparked the fighting. On the same day, the opposition ended its civil disobedience campaign.
Monterona said the outbreak of hostilities put the lives of OFWs in Lebanon at great risks, referring to the estimated 25,000 OFWs there who were mostly domestic helpers.
During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, most Lebanese employers just left their domestic helpers and were even locked inside their employer’s houses, Monterona recalled.
“That time Lebanese are swiftly fleeing and securing only themselves and members of their families, leaving behind our fellow OFWs at their employer’s houses, thus putting OFW lives at great risks at time when heavy bombs are pouring like rain,” Monterona said.
The ongoing conflict has seen many Lebanese citizens evacuating to Cyprus amid the fighting.
Monterona said the issuance of advisory from the Philippine government to OFWs in Lebanon to keep off the streets and just follow their employer’s instruction would not be enough, he added, as he called for a “pro-active plan” to ensure the safety and security of all OFWs in Lebanon.
He said that Philippine officials in Lebanon should make themselves and their offices available and that they should try to get in touch with OFWs by having available telephone hotlines in time.
Two years ago, over 6,000 Filipino workers were evacuated and repatriated from Lebanon following the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Many were repatriated through the help of the International Organization for Migration.