April 24, 2018 / 9:04 AM / a month ago

Philippines 'apologises' to Kuwait after rescuing domestic workers

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines apologised on Tuesday for what Kuwait viewed as violation of its sovereignty after the Southeast Asian nation’s embassy “rescued” several domestic workers from their employers’ homes amid reports of abuse.

FILE PHOTO - Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the embassy was forced to “assist” Filipino workers who sought help because some situations were a matter of life and death.

“We respect Kuwaiti sovereignty and laws, but the welfare of Filipino workers is also very important,” he said, adding that domestic helpers account for more than 65 percent of the more than 260,000 Filipinos in Kuwait.

Cayetano said Kuwait had accepted the Philippines’ explanation after the Kuwaiti ambassador met Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and held talks with Cayetano.

“We’re sending a note now to my counterpart, and we are apologising for certain incidents that Kuwait views as violation of their sovereignty,” Cayetano told reporters.

Duterte last month ordered workers in Kuwait to return over reports of abuse following the discovery of a domestic worker’s body in a freezer in an abandoned home.

In Saturday’s operation, the workers were taken to shelter houses ran by the embassy and would soon be repatriated, diplomats in Manila said.

“The workers voluntarily went with embassy staff who waited outside the homes of the domestic helpers’ employers,” said a diplomat. The employers did not hand over their passports.

Some workers were persuaded to leave their employers, he said.

The operation was captured on video and posted on social media. “It was not a clandestine operation,” said Elmer Cato, assistant secretary for public diplomacy.

Kuwait had summoned the Philippine ambassador to demand an explanation.

There are 600 Filipino workers in embassy-run halfway houses in Kuwait, Cayetano said, with about 120 more who have sought rescue from employers due abuse and tough working conditions.

Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said part of an agreement with Kuwait was to seek assurance it would to bring those who abused Filipino workers to justice.

“The secretary conveyed our request for Kuwait’s kind understanding of the sworn duty of the government to protect Filipino nationals anywhere in the world,” Roque said in a statement.

Workers in many Gulf states are employed under a sponsorship system that gives employers the right to keep their passports and exercise full control over their stay.

Rights groups say the system leaves millions of workers in the region open to exploitation.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie

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