105 OFWs under Saudi amnesty program back in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 13) — Over a hundred Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) who were granted amnesty by the Saudi Arabian government arrived from Riyadh on April 13.

They were the third batch to come home under the Saudi Arabia's "A Nation Without Illegal Expatriates" campaign.

The program gives undocumented foreigners 90 days to leave the country without risk of detention.

Authorities said some of the OFWs had violated immigration laws like holding expired visas or residence permits, while some had escaped or had been abandoned by their employers.

Atty. Cesar Chavez, officer-in-charge Overseas Workers Welfare Administration's Repatriation and Assistance Division, said the government shouldered their airfare from Saudi Arabia.

He added the government will take care of their transportation expenses in the country, including flights to the provinces, as well as provide livelihood assistance and other reintegration services.

Chavez said as a result of being granted amnesty, they no longer face penalties or cases from their previous employers. They could also go back to Saudi Arabia anytime, as long as they have legal papers from the Philippines.

Chavez added more OFWs who were granted amnesty are expected to arrive over the next two days. He also said around 16,000 OFWs in the Middle East are irregular, undocumented or overstaying.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told CNN Philippines on April 13 that a government augmentation team is in Saudi Arabia to help those who want to join the amnesty program.

He added around 4,000 OFWs have already applied, with over 400 expected to come home soon.

President's promise

Before he left for his official trips to the Middle East on April 10, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to bring home 250 OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia, along with those on death row.

Read: Duterte to bring home jailed OFWs granted clemency in Middle East

"By the time mag-land ako pauwi, kasama ko na ang mga undocumented at illegal ... They will all be ferried home. Ang first batch niyan, pag landing ko sa Davao, nandoon yung eroplano, dala sila. And we will continue to do that," Duterte said in his pre-departure speech in Davao City.

[Translation: I will be with undocumented and illegal (workers) by the time I land in the Philippines. The first batch will be in Davao when I land.]

However, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on April 12 that the Philippine government cannot ask for clemency for those facing capital punishment since the issue has not reached the level of the King.

Read: Abella: Duterte offered to charter a plane to bring home Filipinos on amnesty